Huntzinger in hunt for bullpen job

SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles are beginning a stretch today of four straight home games, and they're getting a second look at the Rays.

Miguel Gonzalez is starting for the Orioles, while the Rays are countering with left-hander David Price.

Brock Huntzinger is 6-for-6 this spring, which is impressive for a hitter or a pitcher.

Huntzinger, a non-roster reliever, has retired all six batters that he's faced. He set down three Red Sox hitters Sunday in Fort Myers and struck out the side Tuesday night to record the save in the Orioles' 3-2 win over the Yankees in Tampa.

"I feel good," he said yesterday morning. "I think playing this winter helped me stay on track. I only had like three weeks off in the offseason, but I was throwing the whole time because it was so close to spring training. I feel like I'm sharp. I'm throwing strikes. So that's half the battle. I like where I'm at."

He'd like the view a lot more from the 40-man roster and the home bullpen at Camden Yards, but one step at a time.

Huntzinger had two stints in the Dominican Republic in his first exposure to winter ball, including 15 2/3 innings with the Estrellas, where he posted a 1.15 ERA. He later pitched in the postseason for Aguilas.

The Orioles signed Huntzinger, 25, to a minor league deal after he spent seven years in the Red Sox's organization as a third-round pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. He arrived as a long shot to break camp with the club, but manager Buck Showalter has praised him at every turn.

The Orioles have plenty of right-handed relief candidates to slot with Tommy Hunter, Darren O'Day and Ryan Webb near the backend of the bullpen - a list that includes Alfredo Aceves, Evan Meek and Brad Brach. Huntzinger hasn't bothered to do the math and count candidates and openings.

"I'll tell you what, man, a couple years ago I used to be big into who's on the roster, where they're at, whatever, and coming here, I don't know what guys are starters or relievers, who's a free agent. And I think that's just kind of freed up my mind to just go out there and do what I can do," Huntzinger said.

"Obviously, I know they've got their guys or whatever, but they made me feel good in the process this offseason and they said there were going to be opportunities, so hopefully there's an opportunity."

He will create one if he keeps pounding the zone and striking out the side.

"You try to stay in that sweet area, but I think that's the battle every pitcher fights is getting ahead of hitters, and it makes it a little easier when you can do that," he said.

"I get like one (strikeout) an inning, maybe. Last year I was a little under that. I was joking around with my buddies. I can't remember the last time I struck out the side. Probably in high school. I think it was all from getting ahead of guys. If I can start doing that, great. But no, I'm not going to strike everybody out. That's not really my thing."

If Huntzinger doesn't stick with the Orioles this spring, he still could make an impact down the road and justify his decision to sign with them.

"I came in here and my whole thing going into the offseason was I needed like a fresh start," he said. "I needed new eyes. Get under another microscope. Get some other people to see me. They made me feel comfortable and I didn't really know anyone here, so just coming in and saying, 'Hey, this is what I can do,' and hopefully they like it."

So far, so good.

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