Baez ready to bounce back for O's
Righty itching to start, but will fill any role in which he's needed
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- His elbow is healthy, but Danys Baez might still have a handicapped bid to make the starting rotation. Baez, who spent the last year rehabbing from ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow, has expressed a desire to move out of the bullpen in an effort to keep himself as healthy as possible.
Still, despite the uncertainty of his future role, Baez is happy to be healthy and back on the mound.
His thinking is quite concise: Baez said that if he works once out of every five days, it will be easier on his surgically repaired joint. The right-hander isn't particularly concerned that he hasn't started a big league game since 2002, and he's equally unfazed about the possibility that his elbow won't hold up over a starter's workload.
"I'm not 100 percent confident, but nobody's 100 percent," Baez said Sunday. "If something happens, I think we're going to have more time to recover. If something happens in the bullpen, you're going to lose one guy for three or four days. If something happens as a starter, you're not going to lose anybody from the rotation. That way, I could do whatever I have to do to rehab and I wouldn't have to go to the [disabled list]. That's the way I feel."
Baez made certain to qualify that he doesn't know what will happen, and he was equally clear that he will accept whatever role the Orioles assign him. But he has at least one thing going for him: Baltimore's rotation is extremely unsettled at the moment, with just two starters -- Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara -- guaranteed a slot.
The Orioles would love to see Baez earn a starting job, if only because of the alternatives. Baltimore signed Baez to a three-year contract worth $19 million before the 2007 season and may have to consider releasing him and eating the final year of his deal if he isn't able to cement a rotation or bullpen slot by the end of Spring Training.
Still, everyone -- from Baez to Baltimore manager Dave Trembley -- is realistic about the challenge ahead of him. Baez hasn't pitched since racking up an 0-6 record with a 6.44 ERA in 2007, and he hasn't started since 2002, when he posted a 10-11 record with a 4.41 ERA in 165 1/3 innings for the Cleveland Indians.
"It's going to be an adjustment for me," said Baez. "I'm going to throw a lot more pitches. I've got to go deeper in games. It's not only one inning, so I've got to throw more pitches and focus more on command than speed. That's why I'm here. That's why I have a pitching coach to work with. That's my plan and that's what we're trying to do right now."
"One, he's going to have to show he's healthy; two, he's going to have to show he can carry the workload and get his pitch count up," added Trembley of the challenge facing Baez. "If you're going to be a starting pitcher, you've basically got to be able to throw 100-plus pitches and do the work between starts. I know [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] has tentatively written out schedules for guys. He'll be in a group where we'll try to stretch him out early."
Baez, who had never been on the disabled list in his career, said it's a relief just to be able to take the mound again. He counts last year's experience as one of the toughest he's faced, and he's glad to put it behind him.
"It was difficult for me, especially last Spring Training when you know you're not going to be with the team," Baez said. "You're not going to be doing what everyone's doing and you feel like you're not going to be part of the team."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.