Competition stiff for long-relief role

Competition stiff for Orioles' long-relief role

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Patches seldom work this well. A year after searching high and low for bullpen help, the Orioles have more relievers than they have places to put them. After signing four veterans this offseason and inviting a few low-cost options to camp, the O's may carry a 13-man pitching staff to make the best use of all the available arms.

If you count Chris Ray and the four main relief additions, five of the eight potential bullpen slots are already locked up. One of the last spots may go to a long man and another may go to a situational lefty, but one thing's certain: manager Sam Perlozzo has plenty of choices and isn't afraid to go against conventional wisdom.

"It ranks right up there with everything else we're talking about right now," he said of the 13-man staff. "The reason that would become a possibility is if you're sitting there with all one-inning guys. If that's the way it shakes down -- that the guys we think are supposed to make the club are all one-inning guys -- that's not going to work.

"We'd have to make an adjustment to get another guy up here to give us some innings if we need it. Otherwise, you'll blow your bullpen out and that can have a carryover effect for days."

That relief structure is still an outside possibility, but it's likely fueled by the surprising amount of competition in camp. The Orioles have at least three strong candidates -- Jeremy Guthrie, Rob Bell and Todd Williams -- for the long-relief job, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see any two of them stick with the parent club past Opening Day.

If they choose to carry a second southpaw, though, the Orioles will have a harder time hanging on to Guthrie and Bell. Williams, who has been part of the O's bullpen for three seasons, doesn't know what to expect. Williams didn't come into camp thinking he had a job, but at this point, it's hard for him to imagine leaving without one.

"I've read it, but I don't understand it -- my name being mentioned as one of the guys who's worried about making the team," he said Thursday. "It's kind of a shock to me. I've never come into a camp in my life saying to myself, 'I'm guaranteed a job.' I've never done that and I never will do that. I came in here to work my [rear end] off, and I've done everything I can do to get myself ready for Opening Day with the Baltimore Orioles."

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Williams is 100 percent correct in that regard, but he's not alone. Both Guthrie and Bell have been highly effective this spring, which presents a dilemma for Perlozzo. Does he stick with the pitcher he's known for years or go with an unknown quantity? Right now, at least, he's planning on taking the hot hand to Baltimore.

"It helps that I know Todd, because I know what he's done in the past and what he's capable of doing," he said. "I just think that you go into this thing thinking you'll take the best guys north with you.

"That's one of the first things I told the ballclub when I got here this year. 'Don't make the mistake of thinking you've got the team made. And don't make the mistake of thinking you don't have a chance.'"

Bell and Guthrie have absorbed that lecture and made it work for them this spring. Bell wasn't given much of a chance to make the team when Spring Training opened, but he's made an impression by pitching nine scoreless innings. Guthrie, a former first-round pick, threw 12 innings but allowed two runs in his last outing.

Baltimore may have more at stake with Guthrie, who was acquired from Cleveland on a waiver claim. If he doesn't make the team, chances are some other organization will snap him up and give him a chance. By extension, both Williams and Bell both have a better shot at surviving the cut process and pitching for Triple-A Norfolk.

None of the players has a feeling for where they'll be next week, but there won't be any animosity. Bell and Guthrie became fast friends while pitching in Cleveland's organization and pull for each other to succeed. Right now, though, one player's break could well mean more adversity for his friend and teammate.

"I don't know exactly what they're looking for. I mean, if Jeremy Guthrie makes the team and he's the long man, I don't know how many long men you keep," said Bell, a five-year veteran. "It's tough enough to be a baseball player -- let alone [general manager]. I know that I can fit into a number of different roles here with this club. That's my view.

"What they're expecting out of me or what they want out of me, that hasn't been completely addressed yet. I have a vague idea of where I may fit in, but ultimately, at the end of the day, there are a lot of decisions to be made. I just want to be a guy who breaks camp here and makes it tougher on them to make decisions about other guys."

Consider that mission accomplished, and Williams is the chief holdover affected by those extra decisions. The right-hander has given up 11 hits in 6 1/3 innings, but he said most of those hits have been ground-ball singles. That's actually a good sign for Williams, who has been working on his sinker and trying to induce grounders.

That's why he's had a hard time considering what else he can do to state his case. Williams has been fairly effective for Baltimore throughout his tenure, which he hopes will have more bearing than Spring Training statistics.

"That would be one of the reasons why I should have confidence coming into the clubhouse -- not guaranteed the job, but having a role in the bullpen," he said of his three-year tenure in middle relief. "I don't know what else I can do. My role in the bullpen is my role. I've come here and gotten my ground balls."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.