SARASOTA, Fla. -- Over the first few weeks of Spring Training, one of the most visited lockers has been that of reliever Luis Ayala, as the bilingual veteran has wasted no time befriending his new teammates.
He has shown his two-seamer grip to Alfredo Simon, as well as the slider he picked up from Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
"Rivera has a great slider, he just doesn't need it," said Ayala, who also shared it with Matt Lindstrom, another new reliever whom he knows from their days with the Marlins.
The 34-year-old Ayala is as comfortable telling jokes with the team's younger Spanish-speaking players as he is hanging out with Japanese pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada and Taiwanese lefty Wei-Yin Chen, around whom he affectionately throws an arm during pregame stretches.
"You always try to see guys that people migrate toward," said manager Buck Showalter, who is well aware of Ayala's popularity. "I see the same thing. He's got some words of wisdom, and I am glad that he is sharing it."
Signed to a one-year deal with a club option for 2013, Ayala is expected to compete for one of the team's late-inning roles, and his presence adds some depth to a bullpen very much in flux. A veteran of seven Major League seasons, Ayala spent all of 2010 in the Minors but impressed the Yankees enough last spring to make the team out of camp as a non-roster invitee. He went on to post his first sub-3.00 ERA since 2005 -- a function, he says, of being healthy and putting some personal issues behind him.
"I just want to do my job in any situation and any role," said Ayala, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2006. "I feel great. And happy. When you feel comfortable, you can do your job."
Ayala has been dealing with some allergy issues this spring, a yearly occurrence, but one that is stronger here than in previous camps. Showalter said that he probably shouldn't have used the veteran in Sunday's game, but Ayala -- who has been taking shots to try to keep the swelling down -- hasn't complained. Instead he has gone out and pitched, allowing two runs (one earned) in his first two spring innings. He doesn't expect sympathy, and he doesn't dish it out either.
"It's pretty obvious what [the players have] got to bring, and he'll tell them," Showalter said. "I know, I've heard him. If they are looking for a sympathetic ear or something, he is not going to be the guy to talk to."
"He's the type of guy we definitely need on the team," Lindstrom added. "He's got a lot of knowledge as far as baseball, but he also brings a lot of intangibles. His personality -- he's laughing and keeping things loose. His experience -- he's basically been playing baseball year-round for 15 years. He knows what he's doing."
Ayala also knows that a clubhouse presence can only account for so much. He is eager to build on a 2011 season in which he went 2-2 with a 2.09 ERA in 52 games, and he believes he has enough left in the tank to replicate that success.
"He had a great year with the Yankees, and he's going to help us a lot," Simon said. "He likes to laugh, but we have a lot of respect for him, too. When it's game time, he's ready."
"You look back through the road he has traveled, [and] there's not a lot that is going to happen that he's not going to be able to say, 'been there, done that,'" Showalter said of Ayala, who got his start pitching in the Mexican Baseball League for five seasons.
Ayala was originally signed from a Mexican League club by the Rockies in 1999, but the organization sold him back to the team in 2001. The D-backs signed him in '02, and Montreal selected him in the Rule 5 Draft following the 2002 season. He pitched with the big league team from 2003-05, establishing himself as a solid reliever in the process. But he struggled to return from Tommy John surgery, going on the 60-day disabled list in 2007 and posting a 5.77 ERA for Washington the following year.
That tough stretch continued with the Mets -- a trade he'd requested -- and Minnesota, where Ayala was reportedly unhappy with his role. Things didn't get any better with the Marlins, with whom he signed a Minor League deal in 2009, as he went on record criticizing the organization's roster management.
Ayala says that he has always tried to be honest; that the combination of resolving his personal issues and getting his arm fully healthy has given him peace of mind and a new lease on his career.
"Last year it was one of my best years in my career, because the Yankees gave me another opportunity to be back in the Majors after a lot of incidents in my life," he said. "God has blessed me with another opportunity in Baltimore, and I'm really working on my relationships here.
"I think the most important thing is to keep the union and try to be a real teammate, especially [with] the bullpen guys. Because this sport is going to be hard some days, you aren't going to feel 100 percent, but mentally we are going to be able to help each other."
Those who know Ayala have no doubt that he will be able to help the Orioles between the lines as well.
"Just the presence he has on the mound; he's fearless," Lindstrom said. "Some guys go out there and try to pitch around and pick around the plate, but Luis will come right at you with his stuff. He just knows how to pitch. He's very seasoned in knowing guys' swings and how to make them miss."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.