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Ray ready to help O's wherever needed

Ray ready to help O's wherever needed

MIAMI -- The exile is over. Erstwhile closer Chris Ray returned to the Major Leagues on Tuesday, when the Orioles chose to promote the right-hander from Triple-A Norfolk. Ray, who struggled in his first two months with Baltimore, went down to Norfolk for a month to further iron out his mechanics.

"He's staying behind the ball better," Baltimore manager Dave Trembley said. "His delivery is better [and] the finish on his pitches is better. But more importantly, his confidence is really good. He feels good about himself and we did get very good reports from the pitching coach down there."

The right-hander missed all of the 2008 season while recovering from ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow, and he looked dominant in Spring Training before taking a misstep in the regular season. Ray worked to a 9.17 ERA in his first 17 appearances, and the Orioles felt he would be better served at Norfolk.

"It's not demoralizing," Ray said. "It's part of the game. If you're not performing up here, they've got to get someone up here who can. There's no point in keeping me up when I'm struggling like that. You may as well get me down there, get some innings in with no pressure and be able to extend me to two innings."

Ray pitched to a 2.25 ERA in eight games for Norfolk, assuring the Orioles that he's found a comfort zone. And now, the Orioles need to work him back into their bullpen, finding a spot for an arm that boasts 49 career saves. Ray will likely be forced to work in the middle innings until he demonstrates success.

And if you ask him, he really does not care about his role. Ray said Tuesday that he's just happy to have found his arm slot, and he cited an appearance against Triple-A Louisville with helping him find his comfort zone. Ray said that he'd tried all spring to find a consistent arm slot, only to have it click into place last Monday.

"It was weird," he said. "I spent so much time in the bullpen concentrating on the arm slot, and then I go out there, didn't think about it and just threw and it was there. Everything feels natural. It was a pretty amazing feeling.

"That entire appearance, I threw only fastballs," he continued. "I wanted to keep doing it over and over. Then the next time, I threw some sliders and got some strikeouts. It was nice."

For his part, Trembley chose not to pigeonhole when he'd use Ray. The former third-round draftee will be mixed and matched whenever the Orioles need him, and Trembley may even use him for multi-inning appearances. Right now, all that seems certain is that the Orioles don't have a situational southpaw to use in the late innings.

"We'll go with what we have right now," said Trembley. "I'm sure everybody will be in tuned to see how it develops. If the need arises, then we'll try to do whatever we can to make it better. But right now, we're going with what we have. Hopefully, we won't be in situations where it's so critical."

Ray took special satisfaction in his success for Norfolk and said he hopes it will translate against big-league batters.

"When you go down there and you're able to get guys out on a consistent basis -- to be able to put together back-to-back-to-back good appearances -- it kinds of gets the ball rolling and gets you on a roll," he said.

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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