BALTIMORE -- Chris Ray may be far removed from the Orioles' bullpen, but he isn't far out of mind.
Baltimore's erstwhile closer has had a tough time recovering from a year spent on the sidelines, but he's begun to find his groove at Triple-A Norfolk. Ray, who spent all of the 2008 season recovering from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow, has used his time at Norfolk to rebuild his mechanics under game conditions.
And so far, the experiment has worked. Ray, who has 49 career saves, has made four scoreless appearances for Norfolk and may be pointing the way back toward Baltimore. For now, the Orioles just want to see him progress to the point where he stops fighting himself before they bring him back to the big league bullpen.
"He just needs to be a little more consistent," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley. "He's definitely headed back in the right direction. And like he said before he left, he had no problem going there because he knew he needed the work. It wasn't doing him any good pitching once every five days and coming in when the games really didn't mean anything. That's not what Chris Ray's all about. He needs to pitch when it means something."
Ray has been working in the low 90's since his demotion to Norfolk, and Trembley said he's gotten good reports on the right-hander's slider. The Orioles had bigger plans for Ray after he worked through Spring Training without allowing a single earned run, but they scrambled into contingency mode when he struggled out of the gate.
The 27-year-old worked to a 9.39 ERA in his first 17 appearances this season, and Trembley ran out of roles in which he felt comfortable spotting Ray. Now, with Ray at Norfolk, Trembley can watch his progress from afar.
"They've tried to slow his tempo down," said Trembley, "And he seems to think that when he slows his delivery down, he gets on top of his pitches better. His fastball velocity is good and his slider has been sharp. When he rushes with his delivery, that's when he gets underneath the ball and doesn't have as good a finish."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.