Orioles hope to solve bullpen riddle this week

Orioles hope to solve bullpen riddle this week
December 23, 2013, 9:00 am
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Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Fernando Rodney (56) delivers a pitch during the ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox in game three of the American League divisional series at Tropicana Field.

(Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

The Orioles weren’t interested in Chris Perez. It doesn’t seem as if many teams were.

Reports indicate that Perez and the Los Angeles Dodgers are close to a one-year contract. Perez may not even have to close for the Dodgers.

Perez had 123 saves for Cleveland over the past two years, but the Orioles prefer Fernando Rodney.

Whether Rodney signs with the Orioles or not will probably be decided quickly. If he doesn’t, then they’ll have to settle on Tommy Hunter as closer for now.

A year ago, the Red Sox went into the season with Joel Hanrahan as closer. After he was hurt, Andrew Bailey took over, and then he, too was lost for the season. Koji Uehara ended up doing a superb job for Boston.

[RELATED: Options after Balfour]

The Orioles have been sniffing around Bailey and Hanrahan. Bench coach John Russell particularly likes Hanrahan, who pitched for him when he was Pittsburgh’s manager. Neither will be ready to start the season, but it’s possible that Hunter starts the year as closer and someone else takes over.

Grant Balfour told MLB Network Radio that he has four teams interested in him. For his sake, I hope he’s able to at least match the agreement he had with the Orioles.

For entertainment value, I would have loved to heard his phone conversation with Dan Duquette when he told the Orioles’ executive vice president of baseball operations that the team was making a mistake. My conversations with Duquette aren’t as entertaining.

Two years ago, Duquette made his first big free agent signing, with Japanese left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada. A few days into spring training, Wada developed a sore elbow. He pitched twice briefly in the exhibition season, but not long afterward underwent Tommy John surgery and never pitched for the team.

At the time of Wada’s injury, there was some chatter that perhaps the Orioles’ medical exams weren’t strict enough.

It would have been nice having Balfour around. He certainly sounds entertaining and very passionate.

Fortunately for Troy Patton, his suspension news for a positive test for amphetamines was buried under the Balfour avalanche. Otherwise, he would have been the villain of the week.

Patton has demonstrated irrational behavior before. In 2011, he was arrested for driving while intoxicated.

It took quite a while for Patton to prove to the Orioles that he could be an effective pitcher in the bullpen, and it wasn’t until late in the 2011 season that he finally became a mainstay.

He was pitching well in 2012 before turning an ankle in a parking garage, and if not for Brian Matusz’s re-invention as a left-handed specialist, the season could have been badly damaged.

Patton’s 25-game suspension will add another storyline in spring training. The Orioles will probably need another left-hander in the bullpen besides Matusz, and Mike Belfiore, Zach Britton, Kelvim De La Cruz, Chris Jones and T.J. McFarland can challenge for it.

Patton will be able to pitch in spring training, but then will have to go underground until Apr. 29, which is the 26th scheduled game.

While Patton was somewhat lucky because his suspension got far less attention than it would normally have, David Lough was unlucky.

Lough was introduced to a handful of media members in a conference call following Duquette’s.

Last Wednesday, the Orioles acquired Lough, a left-handed hitting outfielder from Kansas City in exchange for Danny Valencia.
Lough hit .286 in 96 games for the Royals, and for now looks to be the starting left fielder.

He heard from his agent that he could be traded, but was happy it was to the Orioles.

“They’ve got a ton of weapons on the team,” he said.

Lough isn’t a power hitter, and says he’s more of a gap-to-gap hitter.

“I feel I can step right in and make an impact,” he said.

As a two-sport player at Erie, Pa’s, Mercyhurst College, Lough never had a chance to really focus on baseball. He was a wide receiver, and with severe winter weather, couldn’t play as much baseball as his counterparts in warmer climates.

“I’ve really grown as a player,” he said. And, he’s convinced he’ll be able to steal bases as a regular.

“I can be a 30-bag steal guy, year-in and year-out,” he predicts.