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11/24/09 3:58 PM EST

Winter of his content: Ray making strides

Reliever feels offseason regimen has him in right shape for '10

BALTIMORE -- Chris Ray knows he has work to do and is eager to do it. Baltimore's former closer struggled last season in his return from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his pitching elbow and is now three years removed from his only 30-save season. Oddly enough, Ray thinks a winter full of workouts is exactly what he needs.

"I'll finally have a fully healthy offseason where I can actually lift," said Ray in the final weeks of a season that saw him post a 7.27 ERA. "I'm down 10-15 pounds, but at the same body fat that I was going into the '07 season. I'm looking forward to putting on some extra muscle and being able to lift like I normally would with a full offseason."

Ray, who spent virtually all of the 2008 season working his arm back into pitching shape, went through a variety of phases last season. The right-hander didn't allow a run in Spring Training, but he got hit hard in April and May, and after trips to the disabled list and Triple-A Norfolk, he turned it on in August and fell off again in September.

The former third-round draftee had problems finding a consistent release point at times during the season and said that he began overthinking things on the mound. Opposing hitters batted over .300 against Ray in every month except August (.217) last season, and he has reason to believe that things will be different next year.

Ray said that his normal offseason regimen consists of taking three weeks off in October, and then spending the first two weeks of November running and getting his legs in shape. Ray then starts cuff weights and arm-strengthening exercises in the final two weeks of November and typically begins throwing in early December.

This year, though, Ray said he may begin a little bit earlier. He's hoping to increase his strength in order to allow his body better withstand the rigors of the season, a process he said can only help his arm.

"I think it has to do with endurance, but also with strength," Ray said. "I was getting soreness in my biceps, which I'd never had in the past. I also think I was missing that extra little bit on the fastball, and the weight should help."

Ray wound up missing some time due to biceps tendinitis and went through a Minor League rehab stint to get his mechanics back in order. And while he was down there, something clicked. Ray threw just six big league innings in June and July, but he came back to spin a 2.12 ERA in 13 August appearances.

Things went back awry in September, though, with Ray pitching to a 16.20 ERA in just five innings. Opposing hitters batted a scorching .556 against him and slugged 1.037 over his final 10 appearances. Ray doesn't minimize that disastrous month, but he did say that he came out of the regular season feeling healthy.

"I guess that's the plus you take out of this year," Ray said. "But I definitely don't discount this season based upon a previous injury. I expected a lot more out of myself and obviously didn't put up nearly good enough numbers. I had a stretch in August where I felt I was back to form, but then in September, I didn't throw as well as I should."

Ray, who will be eligible for arbitration for the first time, said in early October that he hoped he wouldn't be a casualty of the non-tender process. He and the Orioles, he said, have some unfinished business together.

"Hopefully, I'm still here," Ray said. "Obviously, it's out of my hands. Now, it's just whether I fit into their plans or not, and I hope I do. I see a lot of good things happening here. But you can't bring me back next year expecting me to do what I did this year, because that would be pointless. I expect to have a much better season next year."

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