With Ray recovering from the Tommy John surgery, the closing role has been capably filled by George Sherrill this season, which potentially gives the Orioles a wealth of options for the end of games next season. His role is the furthest thing from his mind, though. Ray just wants to prove to himself and the organization that he's healthy and will be able to pitch up to his abilities next season.
"I'm just happy to be out there to compete," he said. "I've never been through anything like this before. I didn't realize it's not only taxing physically, but mentally. I've got to keep this up and take every step like it's a new challenge."
Ray, who has 49 career saves, may be able to return to the Orioles in September, but the team will exercise the utmost caution with his surgically repaired elbow. He's not likely to pitch in any organized Winter League, and he said that he feels the rust from missing almost a year's worth of competition, even against low-level Minor League bats.
"I can't see how anybody wouldn't throw in the Minor Leagues before they came back to the big leagues. ... The first time I went out there in [Class A] Frederick, I'm in Frederick and I had a little nerves when I went out there," he said. "Hopefully, as I progress [through] the next four or five appearances, I'll be getting a little bit sharper, making better pitches."
The time off has yielded one tangible improvement: Ray said that his stamina and his leg strength are about as good as they've ever been, a fact he attributed to working out in Florida over the last few months. He also said that his velocity is up over 90 mph again, giving him hope that all his stuff will return as he gets closer to pitching in big league games.
And if it turns out that he doesn't pitch in the big leagues this season, Ray said he won't be crushed.
"It has a lot to do with the club and what's in their best interests and also what's in my best interests. But we haven't really come to any kind of a conclusion," he said. "I'm pitching in games right now. So I'm getting my confidence up, knowing I can throw. Obviously, I have five or six more rehab appearances, so whatever they finally decide is fine with me."
Trembley, meanwhile, said he was impressed by Ray's recovery and by his patience.
"I think it's just great that he's here. For me, this is a tremendous accomplishment," the skipper said. "He had surgery on Aug. 16 of last year. In less than a year, this guy has been pitching in games. This guy's work ethic has been off the charts."