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Amid struggles, Walker staying positive

Amid struggles, Walker staying positive

NEW YORK -- Jamie Walker doesn't need to cite the litany of statistics that illustrate the difficult nature of his season, but you can bet the Orioles lefty reliever knows them in chilling detail.

Walker is the first to admit that he hasn't been pitching up to expectations, but he also knows that he's better than he's shown and that he should have plenty of good moments left in front of him.

"I think I'm just trying to simplify things," he said Tuesday. "I've just been trying to do too much, and I need to just do what Jamie Walker can do. It's obviously easier to say than do, but we're three games over .500 [entering Tuesday], and that's my main thing. What can I do to help this team win? I think I've cost us a few games ... but I'm just thankful to have good teammates."

Walker, who was the linchpin in Baltimore's bullpen last season, has seen his effectiveness wane with reduced responsibilities. Opposing batters have hit .344 off him this year, which is more than 100 points higher than they did (.242) last season. Walker allowed six home runs in 61 innings last year, and has already allowed three in his first 12 this season.

The carnage doesn't end there. Walker blew six saves all of last year -- when he was used as a part-time closer -- and has already blown three in 2008. The veteran allowed 11 earned runs in the first half last year and he has already allowed six. And finally, though he hasn't allowed a home run in May, opponents are hitting .444 against him.

Walker has completed an entire inning just five times this year -- twice in May -- and has struggled as a strictly situational arm. He won't use his role as an excuse, though, and prefers to talk about what he can do to return to form.

"I always look at video, but I look at it more to look at hitters," he said. "I know when I make a good pitch or not when I'm out there. I think the majority of it was getting too much into my offspeed stuff instead of being able to spot my fastball. I was just trying to do more than I'm capable of doing instead of just going out there and thinking, 'Here, hit this.' "

Baltimore manager Dave Trembley has seen those symptoms manifest themselves with Walker, and he's had bullpen coach Alan Dunn working hard on finding a remedy. Dunn recently noticed that Walker's arm slot was different than it was last season, and he's had the left-hander working on getting back on top of the ball for the last week.

Walker pitched a scoreless inning in his last outing, and Trembley said he liked what he saw.

"He seemed to be more on top of his pitches," he said. "He threw his breaking ball the other day with a little more finish on it. Before, it was a little more of a slurve-type pitch, coming across the plate instead of going down."

Walker said he may begin to streamline his arsenal and ignore one of his pitches so he can further concentrate on what's working for him, and he also said that he won't let his struggles get in the way of a healthy mind-set.

"You put a lot of thought into it. You beat yourself up, because I know that more is expected from me and I expect more [too]," he said. "You've got to still be confident, and if I ever lose that, then I'll retire. You've got to have the swagger and you've got to learn to forget your last outing and look forward to the next one. That's the key."

"I think he's beat himself up somewhat, but in a good kind of way. I'd rather have a guy like that then a guy that's apathetic," added Trembley. "But I talked to him before we came out here. He's an important guy on our club and he's an important guy when we face the Yankees. They have so many left-handed hitters, so he'll be the guy.

"I think it's good that he knows I still have confidence in him. He's done it before, and I'd expect he'll do it again."

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

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