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A Closer Look - July 26, 2007

Lou Blasi The big news at the end of the bullpen this week comes from Baltimore where closer Chris Ray was felled by a bone spur in his elbow.  He is gone for at least a month it would appear. The Orioles have planned a three-week rehab program prior to starting a throwing program so realistically, once you add a rehab week, Ray is closer to 5- 7 weeks away than anything else.
There also remains the possibility that surgery will be necessary to remove the bone spur. That is something the O’s would like to avoid but I am not sure why they simply would not go there first. I don’t see the spur going away. In the event of surgery, Ray would miss the remainder of the season but he would be able to have a reasonably full off-season of work in prep for next year.
As for this year, the Orioles and interim manager Dave Trembley say they will work situationally with closers. Translated, that means that Danys Baez will likely get the save opps when righties bat in the 9th and Jamie Walker will be used to get lefties out.
Baez has 111 MLB saves under his belt, including 9 in 2005, but 2007 has been a struggle. He compiled a 6.52 ERA in 27 IP before going on the DL with forearm tendonitis in mid-June. He returned on July 12th and has since allowed 1 run in 4.2 IP over 4 appearances.  Danys has a career 7.0 K rate but he has not posted a 7.0/9 since 2003. Walks have always been an issue, and he has issued 4.5/9 this year after a tidy 2.5/9 BB rate in 06. Baez throws GB (1.4 this year) and opponents have hit just .228 off of him this year due in large part to a favorable .229 BHIP%
Jamie Walker has been very effective in his 37+ IP for the Orioles this year (1-1, 2.63, 1.14) as he had been for the Tigers in 06 (0-1, 2.81, 1.15). Jamie controls his walks (1.9/9 this year, 1.5 last year) and fans a respectable amount of hitters (6.2/9 this year and 6.9 last year). Opponents are hitting .248 off of him, and he has stranded 74.5% of his runners. Jamie has a career .77 GB rate, which is not as good as you would hope, and as a result he has given up 1.2 HR/9, although this year he has given up just 1 HR for a .24 HR rate.
The important stat here is his lefty/righty split and there is little 2007 evidence that he cannot handle both. He has 3.18 ERA against LHBs with a .242 OBA in 17 IP while vs. RHB, he has a 2.18 ERA in 20.2 IP with a .235 OBA.
Last year he was also better against RHH (2.39 in 26.1 IP) than lefties (3.32 in 21.2 IP) but righties still hit .264 off of him, which is uncomfortable.  In 2005 RHH hit him at a .271 clip.
Should Baez and/or Walker falter, Paul Shuey and Chad Bradford wait in the wings as dark horse candidates. Other wise, keep an eye on Cory Doyne who was signed to a minor league contract out of the Cardinals organization last November. The 25-year-old has a nasty fastball/slider toolbox that earned him 10.1 K/9 in AAA this year for Norfolk against just 2.8 BB/9. He held opponents to a .140 OBA (.212 BHIP%) and an 0.78 WHIP while closing out 29 saves in 43.2 IP (0-1-29, 1.85, 0.78).  That 2.8/9 BB rate is important because control has been Cory’s big issue to this point (5.7/9 in 66.1 IP in AA for the Cards in 2006). The O’s will see how he looks on the big stage and it is not out of the question that he works himself into the picture at some point.
Elsewhere, Antonio Alfonseca closed out his 8th save on Tuesday in relief of Tom Gordon who is working with a torn labrum. But his tour as the Phillies closer is about to wrap as Brett Myers is set to return from the DL, perhaps as early as today. The Phillies will dawdle a little bit in easing Myers back into the closers role but he should be in your lineup next week.
Huston Street returned from the DL on Monday and gave up a run in middle relief. Alan Embree closed out his 11th save of the year (13 opps) on Tuesday in a one-run game. Street should work one or two more non-save outings this week and return to the closer role next week. Get him back in.
And finally the J.J Putz watch is over … after closing out 29 consecutive opps this year and 31 straight dating back to 2006 , J.J. finally blew one last night. It has been a remarkable run however.    

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