Notes: Young Ray shines brightly

Notes: Young Ray shines brightly for Orioles

ANAHEIM -- If you're waiting for Chris Ray to falter, you may want to reschedule the rest of your obligations.

Baltimore's first-year closer has been impeccable in his role, meeting every challenge head-on over the last two months. Ray has 13 saves in 13 tries, and his six-out save on Sunday may have been the most impressive of his young career.

Ray came into a two-run game in the eighth inning Sunday -- with two runners already on base -- and got out of a jam with a popup and a double play. He created another jam in the ninth, but worked out of it by walking Vladimir Guerrero to load the bases with one out and getting a first-pitch double-play ball from Garret Anderson.

The end result was his third straight multi-inning save and his longest appearance of the season.

"He's just been outstanding all year long," said Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo, who had been ejected three innings before Ray's star-turn. "We keep pushing more duties on him, but he's responded. He came out in the eighth, threw six or seven pitches and gets us out of there. It looked like we were in pretty good shape."

The Orioles have been all season -- whenever Ray's pitched. The right-hander has only made 20 appearances, pitching in roughly 40 percent of his team's games. He's held opposing hitters to a .169 batting average and has only been scored on in three of his appearances. In short, he's been as good as Baltimore had any right to expect.

Perlozzo said the Orioles don't want to use him for multi-inning stints, but the skipper admitted that he doesn't always have a choice. Ray didn't get to pitch in the first two games against the Angels, so he made sense for six outs on Sunday.

"I guess I am not going to say anything anymore," said Perlozzo, joking about his recent comments regarding Ray pitching more than one inning. "We are certainly not going to abuse Chris. When the pitch totals for one inning peek up, we're not going to run him back out there."

Ray, for his part, said he wasn't bothered by working more than one inning.

"My arm felt fine, [but] I was getting a little tired out there. That's the first time I went two innings since probably last year," he said. "When I was missing, I wasn't missing by much. I felt good out there."

NostraMora: In the hours before Ray's save, third baseman Melvin Mora opined on the proper way to pitch Guerrero. The two-time All-Star said his pitchers should be as careful as possible against the former MVP, who hit a key one-hop grounder past Mora in the second game of the series and a game-winning inside-the-park homer in the opener.

"Walk this guy. He might kill you or kill me," Mora said. "The two guys you can't be a hero with are Gary Sheffield and Vladimir Guerrero. You don't try to strike out these guys. Walk them. Get them frustrated because they want to win. As far as you go away from them, the better it's going to be."

After the game, when asked about his prescient statement, Mora reiterated his point.

"This guy kills you. You don't let the best guy kill you," he said. "If he goes to first [and] the next guy gets a base hit, we go home. The next guy's going to swing at the first pitch, because he's always trying to stay on top of the ball. He's got a better chance to [hit into a] double play than Vladimir.

"Like I say, don't let Vladimir beat you. Let the other guy beat you. Even if he's a left-handed hitter, it doesn't matter."

More sweet relief: The Orioles have another stunning success in the bullpen -- that of rookie Kurt Birkins, who has come out of nowhere to post an 0.64 ERA in his first eight appearances. Birkins wasn't even with the parent club in Spring Training, when Baltimore took a look at every notable southpaw within the organization.

Ever since his callup in early May, though, he's been all but perfect. Birkins has only been scored on once, working 14 innings and allowing just three hits. He has walked eight batters, though, and he knows he has to cut that number to remain successful.

"I'm still walking too many guys," he said. "I'll be pitching well and then I'll just lose focus for a hitter. And then boom, the next thing I know, it's ball four. I've got to work on staying as focused as I can throughout the whole thing, because if you lose focus up here for one hitter, things can go real bad real quick."

Birkins, a starter in the Minor Leagues, has taken well to the situational role, and he may pitch there for the rest of the season. Then again, if he keeps up his current rate of success, his role may expand as the year progresses.

"For the most part, he's been able to throw strikes," Perlozzo said. "He seems to be able to get right-handed hitters out. He's been somebody that we didn't expect a whole lot out of and we've gotten a whole lot more than we bargained for. And he's got a chance to get better and help us in the future."

What's the biggest adjustment for a former starter? For Birkins, it's been getting used to the throwing schedule of a reliever. Instead of circling one day out of the week, he knows that whenever he goes to the ballpark he may be expected to pitch.

"Whenever that phone rings -- it might not be for me -- but whenever I hear it ring, my heart starts beating a little faster," Birkins said. "The toughest part is warming up -- getting ready to go in -- and then having to sit down again. And then maybe getting warm again the next inning.

"That's been the toughest part, but my job, once I get in there, is always the same. Throw strikes and get outs."

Quotable: "I couldn't imagine a better start than this. The confidence level that I've had all year, starting in Spring Training, has carried over to here. I've been able to keep the ball down for the most part and get guys out." -- Birkins, talking about his first four weeks in the big leagues

Coming up: The Orioles start a three-game series against the Devil Rays on Tuesday. Rodrigo Lopez will get the ball in the series opener, and he'll be matched up against Tampa Bay's Doug Waechter.

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