MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Credit Duquette for Orioles' 2012 success

Justice: Credit Duquette for Orioles' success

For a guy who'd been away from the job for almost a decade, Dan Duquette has had a fabulous year in his new gig with the Orioles.

No general manager has done a better job. If he hasn't sewn up the Executive of the Year Award, he probably has at least narrowed it to a two-horse race with Oakland's Billy Beane.

Duquette has filled needs from an assortment of nooks and crannies, and his club has gotten contributions from many of them. If you're keeping count, the O's have used 50 players this season, including 25 pitchers (11 starters).

Randy Wolf had the distinction of being No. 50 when he replaced injured starter Chris Tillman in the fourth inning Sunday at Yankee Stadium and pitched 3 1/3 innings of one-run ball to get the victory.

Wolf signed a Minor League deal with the Orioles after being released by the Brewers. With Milwaukee, he'd won three of 24 starts and rolled up a 5.69 ERA. But on Sunday, Wolf helped get the O's to within two games of first place in the American League East.

Nate McLouth, who was released by the Pirates earlier this summer, hit third for the Birds in that game.

Lew Ford was the designated hitter on Monday. Duquette gave the 36-year-old a chance even though he hadn't played in a Major League game in five years.

Joe Saunders went 6 1/3 innings for the victory on Monday. Duquette acquired him, too, in a trade for Matt Lindstrom with the D-backs.

Miguel Gonzalez was released by the Red Sox last winter and signed by the Orioles during Spring Training. In six August starts, he was 3-1 with a 1.91 ERA.

The O's have made 158 roster moves in 134 games. Injuries forced some of the moves. Slumps forced some more.

And some -- like bringing 20-year-old Manny Machado to the Major Leagues -- were big-time gambles that have paid off.

Duquette has added five players via trade, claimed one on waivers and signed one free agent. He has not taken on significant payroll, but he has helped manager Buck Showalter keep the O's in contention.

"We've had a lot of opportunity for players to help us," Duquette said. "The guys we've picked up have all made a nice contribution. I think sometimes it's more about opportunity than anything else. They certainly recognize it's another opportunity in the big leagues. I think it adds energy to a club when guys come in and make a contribution right away. It gives the other players confidence."

At 75-59, the Orioles already have more victories than any full season since 2004 and are closing in on their first winning season since 1997.

Showalter has done a masterful job moving pieces around, and most of all, convincing his players they're good enough to win. The Orioles are 24-7 in one-run games and on a pace to have the highest winning percentage ever in those contests.

Adam Jones has been a huge presence, both as a producer on the field and a leader in the clubhouse. Nick Markakis has thrived in the leadoff spot. Jim Johnson probably is baseball's best closer.

"We have a group of core players -- Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis -- that are good and hungry," Duquette said.

But nothing that has happened to the Orioles this season has been more intriguing than owner Peter Angelos' hiring of Duquette last winter.

In 10 years since being let go by the Red Sox, Duquette had opened a baseball youth academy, purchased a collegiate summer team and helped found the Israel Baseball League.

His Boston resume was impressive. In 10 seasons, the Red Sox won 54 percent of their games and went to the playoffs seven times. Seven of his players were contributors on the 2004 World Series champions.

But Duquette had been away for 10 years, and the game had undergone massive change. At the start, he did two things.

Duquette overhauled the club's player development system, and he began attacking the big league club's need for starting pitching.

Duquette's first impact signing was right-hander Wei-Yin Chen, a 27-year-old Taiwanese left-hander who has won 12 games and pitched 162 innings. Just before Spring Training, Duquette acquired right-hander Jason Hammel from the Rockies for Jeremy Guthrie. Until getting hurt in July, Hammel was 8-6 with a 3.54 ERA.

Hammel's injury was a punch in the gut for a team that had already moved starters up and down from the Minor Leagues in the search for arms to keep the club in contention.

Duquette kept coming up with guys few people expected much of, and the Orioles kept getting contributions from them. So many of them helped win games that by the time Wolf walked in from the bullpen at Yankee Stadium, it seemed like the norm.

Along the way, Duquette has found that this latest chapter in his professional life might turn out to be the most satisfying.

"There's nothing like being in a pennant race," Duquette said. "When you come to work, everyone is invigorated."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.