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08/23/08 8:21 PM ET

Rehabbing Ray works out with O's

Reliever visits teammates in break from Minor Leagues

BALTIMORE -- Chris Ray was back at Camden Yards on Saturday, if not back in the bullpen. Baltimore's erstwhile closer visited his teammates and worked out on the field, demonstrating how close he is to a full recovery from last August's ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow and serving notice that he may be back before the end of the year.

Ray, who is still in the midst of a Minor League rehabilitation assignment, will continue to work out with the Orioles on the days between his pitching assignments. The right-hander is expected to throw for Class A Delmarva on Sunday and then twice for Double-A Bowie next week, and he'll spend time at Class A Aberdeen when the Orioles head out on their road trip.

"I told him that he can come here any time he wants," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley. "I want to see him in the clubhouse and I want him to be part of the club. ... There's a place on this team for him next year. He'll be pitching in some role at the end of games next year. I don't know what that is yet, but he has done everything that we've asked him to do."

With Ray recovering from the Tommy John surgery, the closing role has been capably filled by George Sherrill this season, which potentially gives the Orioles a wealth of options for the end of games next season. His role is the furthest thing from his mind, though. Ray just wants to prove to himself and the organization that he's healthy and will be able to pitch up to his abilities next season.

"I'm just happy to be out there to compete," he said. "I've never been through anything like this before. I didn't realize it's not only taxing physically, but mentally. I've got to keep this up and take every step like it's a new challenge."

Ray, who has 49 career saves, may be able to return to the Orioles in September, but the team will exercise the utmost caution with his surgically repaired elbow. He's not likely to pitch in any organized Winter League, and he said that he feels the rust from missing almost a year's worth of competition, even against low-level Minor League bats.

"I can't see how anybody wouldn't throw in the Minor Leagues before they came back to the big leagues. ... The first time I went out there in [Class A] Frederick, I'm in Frederick and I had a little nerves when I went out there," he said. "Hopefully, as I progress [through] the next four or five appearances, I'll be getting a little bit sharper, making better pitches."

The time off has yielded one tangible improvement: Ray said that his stamina and his leg strength are about as good as they've ever been, a fact he attributed to working out in Florida over the last few months. He also said that his velocity is up over 90 mph again, giving him hope that all his stuff will return as he gets closer to pitching in big league games.

And if it turns out that he doesn't pitch in the big leagues this season, Ray said he won't be crushed.

"It has a lot to do with the club and what's in their best interests and also what's in my best interests. But we haven't really come to any kind of a conclusion," he said. "I'm pitching in games right now. So I'm getting my confidence up, knowing I can throw. Obviously, I have five or six more rehab appearances, so whatever they finally decide is fine with me."

Trembley, meanwhile, said he was impressed by Ray's recovery and by his patience.

"I think it's just great that he's here. For me, this is a tremendous accomplishment," the skipper said. "He had surgery on Aug. 16 of last year. In less than a year, this guy has been pitching in games. This guy's work ethic has been off the charts."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.