Orioles decide to move Liz to bullpen
Right-hander believes he has a better shot to make club in relief
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Orioles made twin statements about Radhames Liz and their pitching staff on Monday, when they elected to switch him to a relief role for the foreseeable future.
On one hand, they feel that they can make do with a flawed flock of contenders for three vacant rotation slots, and on the other, they seem to have decided that Liz wasn't going to make the leap as a starter. Liz, who has gotten several cracks at a rotation job, will begin the transition immediately.
Rick Kranitz, the team's pitching coach, explained why Monday morning.
"In my mind, he's got to make the team as a reliever," he said. "We're going to start putting him in situations for that. There's only so many innings and they're really running out on a lot of guys. We've got to make decisions in time for him to get it done in the bullpen. He's not making the team out of the bullpen right now."
Liz, who won the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award in 2007, has flashed intriguing stuff for several seasons. The Orioles think his fastball and changeup can be overpowering and have tried to sharpen his slider to a similar sheen, but the wheels have fallen off for Liz in two extended big league auditions.
One quick glance at the disparity in his statistics tells the whole story. Liz, who had never relieved before cracking the big league barrier, owns a 21-18 record with a 3.39 ERA in the Minors. The right-hander has gone 6-8 with a 6.77 mark in the Majors, racking up an ERA over 6.00 in each of the last two years.
And the reasons for that are equally easy to discern. Liz saw his walk rate skyrocket and his strikeouts plummet during his transition, and has also seen his home run numbers shoot through the roof. Liz allowed 39 home runs in 451 1/3 innings in the Minors and has given up 19 in 109 innings with the Orioles.
And after a shaky Spring Training, Kranitz and the Orioles were forced to make a decision. Liz has a 5.87 ERA after five spring appearances and has allowed nine hits and five earned runs thus far.
"I thought Liz would be in the mix a little bit more," said Kranitz. "I like him in relief because he's got two quality pitches -- fastball and changeup. I think it would be to his advantage to worry about just using a couple pitches and getting a few outs. He can worry about two or three outs instead of getting 20 or 24 outs."
Liz, a rare Baltimore signee out of the Dominican Republic, will have to curb his wild tendencies to have success in either role. The 25-year-old has struck out 532 batters with only 219 walks during his Minor League career to date, but he's handed out 74 free passes while whiffing just 81 batters with the Orioles.
Now, he'll concentrate on being effective for shorter periods of action. Liz said he wasn't surprised by the team's decision and that he feels comfortable despite his lack of experience as a reliever.
"I think I've got a better chance to make the team in the bullpen," he said. "But like I've said before, I think I can do both things. I can be a reliever or a starter. I feel pretty comfortable with that."
Part of the problem for the Orioles is that Liz has gotten multiple chances as a starter without showing much adaptability. Baltimore may not have a set rotation right now, but it has a wave of prospects in the upper levels of the farm system that will likely force some veterans into new roles or out of the organization.
That's why the Orioles are more apt to see Liz as a reliever now, even with the absence of staff ace Jeremy Guthrie and an injury to Koji Uehara. Baltimore is set to allow several veteran arms -- such as Adam Eaton, Danys Baez, David Pauley and Brian Bass -- vie for rotation slots while Liz begins his conversion.
Liz, despite his soft-spoken nature and difficulty with the English language, understands his role perfectly.
"I'm not really looking to throw harder. I'm just trying to concentrate on all my pitches and find the strike zone," he said Monday morning. "I feel like this is going to get me more chances to stay comfortable with the pressure and get used to the big leagues. Maybe in the future, I can start again."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.