Notes: Fresh faces join O's bullpen

Notes: Fresh faces join O's bullpen

BALTIMORE -- The changes have been made, but the fundamental problems remain the same. The Orioles plugged Julio Manon and Kurt Birkins into their bullpen on Tuesday, further underlining the relief staff's inexperience. Baltimore has four relievers with less than a year of service time and three relievers with three years or more.

Both Manon and Birkins fit into the former class, with little or no experience in the big leagues. Despite that fact, the Orioles decided that they're both a better fit than Jim Brower or Eddy Rodriguez, who were removed from the roster Monday night.

Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo said that the Orioles would've liked to make the move Monday, but both Birkins and Manon had pitched recently. That meant it had to wait one day, and Brower allowed two late runs in a 9-7 loss Monday night. Neither Birkins or Manon are regarded as a savior, but Perlozzo's ready to welcome some new arms.

"If you look to your pitching coach or your bench coach and you say, 'Who do you like?' and you get no answer -- really, your stomach's in a knot," he said. "If your starter goes 50 pitches in two innings, the knot starts because you know you're in a situation and you're going to have to try to figure out how to do it.

"When you get guys that can't [perform], you end up with one inning [stints] with all your guys. Before long, you're wearing them out every night trying to get one win."

Both new pitchers will have to work their way into new roles. Manon was the closer at Triple-A Ottawa, but he'll likely serve as a setup man for Baltimore. Birkins was starting, but he'll pitch as a situational southpaw in the big leagues. His presence allows the Orioles to use fellow left-hander John Halama in situations that better suit his skills.

"It's a little different going to the field every single day, not knowing whether you're going to throw or not," Halama said. "But I'm not going to change my approach about anything. [I'll] always be ready when my name is called. [I'll] go out there, throw strikes and get guys out."

Birkins has taken a relatively common path to the big leagues, stopping at each incremental level along the way. He encountered just one roadblock along the way -- a case of shoulder impingement in his second tour of Class A Frederick. The 25-year-old said he briefly doubted whether he'd ever make it, which should make his debut more meaningful.

Manon, 32 years old, has taken a decidedly more colorful route. He's pitched all over the Minor Leagues and all over the world, with back-to-back stints in Korea and Taiwan over the last two seasons. Manon, who pitched in 23 big-league games in 2003, is thankful for another chance to stick on a team in this hemisphere.

"It's huge for me. I'm away [for] a little bit of time from the states. Coming back, making it back so soon, it's big," said Manon, who had eight saves and a 0.75 ERA for Ottawa. "I was worried about it because when you play baseball in the states and then you leave without much experience -- big-league experience -- to come back here is hard."

Bumps and bruises: Veteran sluggers Kevin Millar and Javy Lopez are still a few days away from returning to active duty. Millar is nursing a sore right hand and wrist, an injury that resulted from being hit by a pitch last week. Lopez is trying to work through a sore back, which surfaced earlier in the week during batting practice.

"We did some good treatments yesterday and got a lot of the swelling out of there," said Millar, speaking about his wrist. "It's still sore now. It's just the bruise pain."

Lopez said batting practice has been difficult, but he also said he thinks he can avoid a stint on the disabled list. The three-time All-Star said he hopes to return Thursday, if everything progresses as expected.

"The problem is, right now, that I can't swing as hard as I can," he said. "Right now, I just have a nice, comfortable swing. It will bother me once I try to swing the bat hard."

Rude welcome: Millar saw his former teammate, Johnny Damon, return to Fenway Park on Monday night, and he was struck by the crowd's reaction. Millar said he wasn't surprised that the crowd booed Damon, who used to play for the Red Sox and now plays for the Yankees. He also said he expects a similar response.

"He's got to take some heat because of the rivalry, but I don't care who you are -- everybody loves Johnny Damon," he said. "They really deep down love him and appreciate everything he did for them. You're going to always get the boos, and that makes it fun, but realistically, it was more cheers than boos."

It certainly didn't sound that way on any of the highlights. Damon was serenaded by a deafening chorus of boos, but he blocked them out and lifted his helmet in appreciation of his time in Boston. The Orioles visit Boston at the end of the week, so Millar will get to walk in Damon's cleats very soon.

"Johnny took most of the heat. He's in the pinstripes," Millar said. "I'm in the black-and-orange, so I kind of stay behind the scenes."

Quotable: "I get a lot of ground balls. I'd say the curveball's probably my best pitch. But don't tell the Blue Jays that yet. Hopefully, they'll find that out for themselves." -- Birkins, explaining his repertoire

Coming up: The Orioles hit the road for a two-game set against Texas, and Daniel Cabrera will be matched up against John Koronka in Wednesday's series opener.

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