Drese hoping long road back ends in Baltimore

Drese hoping long road back ends in Baltimore

Drese hoping long road back ends in Baltimore
SARASOTA, Fla. -- It had been nearly five years since pitcher Ryan Drese took the mound in a Major League setting, but it was impossible to tell on Monday afternoon.

The 34-year-old, who has evolved into more of a finesse pitcher since undergoing two Tommy John surgeries on his right elbow, retired all six Pirates he faced following starter Brad Bergesen in a 6-4 split-squad victory, his first big league appearance since April 14, 2006.

"It was exciting to be out there after a long time not being out there," said Drese, a non-roster invitee trying to make a comeback with the Orioles this spring.

"The pitcher I am now is [someone who relies on] trying to keep the ball down, change speeds, change locations. I'm not trying to overpower anybody."

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Gone are the days when Drese -- a 14-game winner with the Rangers in 2004 -- could blow a 96-mph fastball by hitters. He now relies primarily on inducing ground balls with his sinker, and Drese is hoping that ability impresses the O's brass enough to find a spot, whether it's starting or relieving.

"When we signed him, we talked about it being pretty quick about seeing where he was," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who managed Drese in Texas. "You can tell he feels good about where he is physically. He can make it look easy when he's got the sinker going."

Drese never formally retired, though he didn't think about making a return to baseball when he went under the knife a second time. He simply wanted a better quality of life -- to be able to play with his kids and do everyday things without pain. But something happened during his rehab that did not the first time around, and Drese began to feel his arm strength coming back.

"I said, 'I have to get one more shot,'" Drese said. "And here I am."

It hasn't been easy. Drese, released for the second time in 2008 -- this time by the Braves -- played through two stints of independent ball in South Jersey and spent time in Mexico and Venezuela.

With a 34-39 record and a 5.31 ERA over parts of six seasons in the Major Leagues, Drese said he had several teams interested this offseason, but his familiarity with Showalter and a desire to compete in the American League East won out.

"I don't care if I'm starting or relieving -- I don't care," Drese said. "I take the ball when I'm given it. I go out there and try and compete."

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.