Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Liz fares more than well in debut win

MINNEAPOLIS -- Radhames Liz made his Major League debut against the Twins at Camden Yards on Aug. 25, 2007. He struggled, giving up five earned runs in six innings en route to an 8-1 Orioles loss. On Tuesday, it appeared as though he had learned a thing or two since then.

The 24-year-old mowed through the Twins for five innings in the Metrodome, allowing no runs and only one hit. Liz had a rocky sixth, giving up three consecutive doubles and two runs before being pulled, but he was ultimately credited with his first Major League win in a 5-3 Orioles victory.

"I didn't feel comfortable," Liz said of last season, when he went 0-2 with an ERA of 6.93. "Now, I feel comfortable, and the thing I have on my mind is to throw a strike and locate my pitches."

After the game, Liz said he was keeping the game ball for all of his teammates to sign. Manager Dave Trembley came over to Liz's locker later, saying, "Congratulations," and telling his young pitcher that he would give him the scorecard and lineup card -- keepsakes for life.

Liz, making his 2008 debut after being called up from the Minors on Monday, went 5 1/3 innings while surrendering two earned runs and striking out four.

Trembley said Liz looked more poised and confident than he had seen last year. He was happy that the rookie attacked the strike zone. Trembley's main concern going into the game was that Liz would have control problems, get deep into counts, and surrender walks. Liz only walked one batter.

"We were expecting him to be wild -- and he was pretty much on the money tonight," Twins designated hitter Jason Kubel said. "He made pitches when he had to make them and he didn't get behind in many counts."

Minnesota center fielder Carlos Gomez said he had seen Liz in the Dominican and throughout the Minor Leagues: "He threw more strikes, more in the zone. He threw the breaking ball for strikes. Before, he threw hard -- 100, 98 mph -- and now more consistent -- 94, 95 mph. And more control. He knows now what he has to do."

After the Orioles sent down Liz in Spring Training, Trembley told the youngster that he wouldn't be coming back to the Majors until he was ready to pitch at the big league level.

It was just irony that Liz got to attempt to show his manager that he could handle Major League hitting against the same team that had knocked him around in his Major League debut last year.

"He looked great," first baseman Kevin Millar said of Liz. "He exuded a lot of confidence and had great tempo."

The confidence wasn't there from the onset. Liz said he was nervous in the first inning. In it, he got Carlos Gomez and Alexi Casilla to fly out before walking Joe Mauer. Facing Justin Morneau with Mauer on base, Liz coaxed the power-hitting first baseman into a swinging strikeout. From there, until the sixth inning, he sailed.

"When I went to the second inning, I said, 'This is mine. I got it,'" Liz said.

It was Millar who allowed the O's to stake an early lead when, leading off the second inning, he belted a Kevin Slowey curveball over the left-field fence. The Orioles tacked another run on in the inning and never trailed.

Millar said Slowey only made a couple of mistakes on the night, namely the home run pitches to himself and Melvin Mora, in the sixth, also a solo shot.

Slowey went six innings and surrendered four earned runs on seven hits, dropping to 2-5 on the year.

The Orioles had 13 hits total. Center fielder Adam Jones went 2-for-3 with a pair of RBIs and a run scored. Catcher Ramon Hernandez, whom Trembley said caught the best game of his season for the work he did with Liz, went 2-for-4 with two doubles.

Trembley was even more impressed with the offensive output because it came against Slowey, a strike thrower, who, even with a subpar 2008 record, now has a 3.76 ERA.

George Sherrill got his second save in as many nights -- his 19th of the season -- pitching a perfect ninth inning.

"Maybe we've turned the corner somewhat," Trembley said. "We've had our struggles offensively, and we needed a game like this. There was a lot of real positive things with us offensively tonight."


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