Baltimore Orioles: "Around The Diamond": The Bullpen

Lawrence BarrecaAnalyst IJanuary 17, 2009

This is now the 11th and final part in my multi-part series, "Around the Diamond", as we take one last glance at the team.

Today we look at the bullpen.

A bad memory just resurfaced in my head. 

The O's bullpen seemed to melt away as the Texas Rangers went on to steamroll Baltimore in a 30-3 defeat.

It was the first time a team had scored 30 runs in 110 years, and it made the Orioles' organization look like a bigger joke than ever before.  It was an embarrassment to say the least.

In 2008, Andy MacPhail came in knowing what must be done.  Deals had to be made, and relievers had to come to Baltimore.

This is why it was such a pleasant surprise to see who the O's got in return for Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada.

Out of the ten players received in the two deals, five were relievers (six if Troy Patton moves to the bullpen).  Out of these five, four had little to no major league experience. 

Work still had to be done.

During the season, young guns arose, including Dennis Sarfate, Matt Albers, and Kameron (Kam) Mickolio.  This helped to show the promising future that is in store for the Orioles' bullpen.

In 2009, O's fans can only expect it to get better.

Last season, the O's were also missing two crucial relievers who were both lost to season-ending injuries after the 2007 campaign.

Young closer Chris Ray and veteran middle reliever Danys Baez were gone for all of 2008, only hoping to make valiant returns in 2009. 

For this season, the O's bullpen looks a bit like this:

Long Relievers:
Matt Albers
Brian Burres

Middle Relievers:
Kam Mickolio
Dennis Sarfate
Jaime Walker
Danys Baez

Back of the 'pen (in no particular order, for the closer and setup man has not yet been decided):
George Sherrill
Jim Johnson
Chris Ray

For now, I like the look of the pen.  It is too early to tell exactly who will be there on Opening Day.  Obviously, there are many names that may take the roles of long-reliever and middle-reliever.  This is what I plan to look at next.

As of now, my players on the bubble are the following:  Garrett Olson, Troy Patton, Radhames Liz, Brad Bergesen, Chris Waters, Randor Bierd, Brad Hennessey, and David Hernandez.

Some of these players don't even have to worry about making the cut, for a few of them are trying to go even further in making the starting rotation.  This idea would eliminate all of them, though, so let's narrow it down even further.

If anything, David Hernandez would have to start off in the pen if he has any shot of making the rotation someday.  Same goes for Patton.  Because he missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, he still has everything to prove.

Liz and Waters will be neck-in-neck fighting for the rotation spot, so one (or even both) will have to either go to the pen, or back down to the minors.  As for Bierd, he has to come back strong from last year's injury if he wants another chance at the big league club. 

Honestly, I don't believe that anyone truly knows who will be there come Opening Day.  For now we can only guess.

Well, whether you like the youngsters at the front-end of the bullpen or not, you have to love what the O's have brewing at the back-end.

As of now, the Orioles have three strong pitchers to choose from to be the seventh inning man, the setup man, and the closer.  For the time being, analysts believe that George Sherrill will stay as the closer, with Jim Johnson setting up and Chris Ray pitching in the seventh.

I beg to differ.

What we saw last season from Sherrill was both promising and discouraging.  We witnessed how great he can be for the first half of the season, and then we watched how he can fall apart miserably at the end. I think we all remember the walk-off homerun that Ronnie Belliard hit off of Sherrill last year.

Ooof! It still stings.

I believe that we will see Sherrill take up the role that he had in Seattle, a middle-reliever/setup man.  I can see it now:  In a one-run game going into the seventh inning, Sherrill comes in and takes care of business.  Next up comes Johnson in the eighth.

Jim Johnson was someone who shocked us all, coming up last season and dominating.

Let me just tell a story for anyone that doesn't know.  In a close game against the Boston Red Sox, Manny Ramirez came to the plate with the bases loaded and no one out.

In comes Johnson.

He gets Manny to ground a soft shot back to the mound, where Jim scoops it, throws home, and then Ramon Hernandez guns the ball to first to record the double-play.

J.J. (as Johnson is referred to by many fans) would later get the third out to get out of the jam unscathed, proving to many fans exactly what they had in front of them: a young stud.

After Johnson is done in the eighth, I can only see Chris Ray coming in to seal the deal.  After B.J. Ryan left for Toronto in 2006, Ray became the new closer in Baltimore.  He had his ups and downs, but he always had the closer's mentality.

His one-out pitch was his nasty slider. Add in a mid-90's fastball, and you have a good chance to win the game. 

With these three at the back of the O's pen, it's gonna be difficult for any opposing offense to score runs late in the game. 

For now, the bullpen might be one of the only promising signs this season, next to our young outfield, and, of course, Matt Wieters.

This season might be more fun that we think (but don't hold me to that).


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