O's call up Simon to bolster bullpen
Former starter could serve as closer while Gonzalez is out
BALTIMORE -- Alfredo Simon would like the Orioles closer's job, and manager Dave Trembley wouldn't come right out and say it, but the right-hander figures to get the ball the next time a ninth-inning need arises.
"I knew before the game he was going to close it," Trembley said of Simon, who maneuvered around the heart of the Yankees' order to pick up his first career save in the Orioles' 5-4 win on Tuesday night. Simon entered the game just hours after his contract was purchased and he officially joined the big league club.
"I had nothing to lose putting Simon in. I talked to him before the game, and I asked him one question and one question only, 'Are you scared?' And he said 'No.' And that's all I had to hear."
Simon came on in the ninth inning, tasked with protecting the Orioles' three-run lead, and he established himself right away with a strikeout of Curtis Granderson. Simon allowed a hit to Nick Swisher and issued a full-count walk to Nick Johnson to bring Yankees captain Derek Jeter to the plate. A power pitcher, Simon used a fastball that topped at 97 mph to set up a 91-mph slider and send Jeter down swinging for the inning's second out.
He nearly ended the game with Brett Gardner's ensuing grounder, a play so routine that center fielder Adam Jones admitted he had already started running back to the dugout. But Gardner's ball eluded shortstop Cesar Izturis, allowing Swisher to score. The Yankees closed the lead to one with Mark Teixeira's hit, but that's as close as they would get. Late-game replacement Julio Lugo made a stop up the middle on Alex Rodriguez's ball and shuffled it to Izturis to beat Teixeira by a half-step and end the game.
"I am here to help this team," said Simon, who was taken out of Triple-A Norfolk's starting rotation and moved to the bullpen about 10 days ago. "They have to decide whether they want me to be the closer or not."
"I'd like to [do] it, because I am a power pitcher and I think I've got the stuff to be a closer."
He's not the only one. Trembley said the team switched the 28-year-old Simon, who was 1-1 with a 1.59 ERA in four Triple-A games (three starts) to the 'pen because the organization believes he can be a ninth-inning guy. With closer Mike Gonzalez on the disabled list (left shoulder strain) and not expected to begin a throwing program until at least Monday, the Orioles' bullpen has struggled to nail down the later innings.
"We're going to give guys opportunities and I'm going to try to slot guys back in the roles where they're best suited, not only for themselves but for the club," Trembley said. "I've had guys put in situations because of injuries and decisions that are made, and they've done the very best they can, but it's been an uncomfortable situation for them. And that's my fault, but I've gone with the best that I've had. Now, I feel like I'm getting some help."
That help is coming from the unlikeliest of places. Simon underwent Tommy John surgery to reconstruct the ligament in his right elbow on May 5, 2009, and the fact that he is throwing with velocity in the upper 90s -- and now has been called up to the Majors -- is no small feat.
"I think it's an incredible story," Trembley said. "The guy was full-go the very first day [of Spring Training]. He is strong physically and mentally. He wants to be here."
When asked if he would hand the ball to Simon if needed on Wednesday, Trembley said he will see how Simon's arm feels, given that he threw 29 pitches, the majority of which were his blistering fastball.
"I'm sure he probably put as much effort and energy into it [as possible]," Trembley said. "He's never done it before. I want to see how he is [Wednesday]. And if he's fine, let's have a blowout 11-1 and I won't have to worry about it. That would be beautiful."
O's focused on improving team, not skipper
BALTIMORE -- Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said prior to Tuesday's game that the organization's focus is on improving the team, and not on manager Dave Trembley's job status.
"[My response is] the same thing I've told everybody: Our complete energy and focus is on doing the things we need to do to improve the situation on the field," MacPhail said. "It's going to be getting more timely hitting; part of that is going to be wrapping up the game at the end. Those are the two things that probably need the most improvement at this present time."
Trembley is in his third full season at the helm, taking over as interim manager after Sam Perlozzo was dismissed June 18, 2007. Entering Tuesday's game, he has a career Major League record of 175-260.
The 3-16 Orioles are off to the second-worst start in franchise history, prompting fans and media pundits alike to openly question Trembley's status as manager. Prior to the start of the season, MacPhail made it clear that the Orioles are out of the rebuilding Phase 1 and onto Phase 2, meaning Trembley will be judged more on winning than in seasons past.
While expectations were high this spring, the Orioles have dealt with a rash of injuries -- including the loss of leadoff man Brian Roberts and closer Mike Gonzalez -- and their offense with runners in scoring position is a Major League-worst 8-for-74 (.108).
"I'm at the point now where I think maybe we got all the bad out of the way, we got it all out of the way early," Trembley said.
"It's been very, very difficult. I know the expectations here have been built up and people have been hurt. The players have been hurt too. I've been hurt. I've been hurt because I haven't lived up to winning games for everybody. But we intend to do it."
O's honor Robinson Foundation scholar
BALTIMORE -- The Orioles honored a Jackie Robinson Foundation scholar in a special pregame ceremony before Tuesday's game against the Yankees.
Fana Aragaw, a member of the Extra Innings Graduate Fellowship, was presented with a No. 42 jersey by outfielder Adam Jones. Aragaw graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2004 with a Bachelor's of Science in Biology and is currently at the University of Maryland Dental School, slated to receive her DDS in 2011. Aragaw was one of over 1,300 young men and women who were able to attend college thanks to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, Major League Baseball and the Orioles.
The Orioles all wore Robinson's No. 42 jersey on April 15, the first day Robinson appeared in a Major League uniform and the day MLB has officially made Jake Robinson Day. Each player's authenticated game-worn, autographed No. 42 jersey was auctioned at www.orioles.com, and the auction raised over $8,600 to benefit the Baltimore Orioles Charitable Foundation and the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
The team also added Robinson's No. 42 in the recently renovated retired numbers plaza at the north end of Eutaw Street.
Mickolio to get work in Triple-A
BALTIMORE -- The Orioles optioned Kam Mickolio back to Triple-A Norfolk prior to Tuesday's game, a move that cleared a roster spot for Alfredo Simon to join the bullpen.
Mickolio was recalled on April 15, posting a 7.36 ERA over 3 2/3 innings with three walks and four strikeouts in three games. He is a big right-hander with power stuff, but struggled to keep his command in check, often running up three-ball counts.
"A guy that's as highly thought of as Mickolio and he's not having success here, let's not let that thing snowball to such a point where you lose him, you know?" Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "Put him back down there and let him get some success. He wasn't having any here."
Trembley cited an outing on April 19 in Seattle, in which Mickolio gave up a run on three hits and two walks over two innings as a prime example. The reliever frequently fell behind batters and needed around 50 pitches to get through the pair of frames.
"You don't want to see a guy go through that. [You] got to try to help them," Trembley said. "[But] sometimes helping them isn't necessarily what they want to hear."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.