Sherrill's dream comes true
Orioles choose offseason acquisition to be new closer
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Orioles confirmed a long-standing rumor Tuesday, when they officially tabbed offseason acquisition George Sherrill as their closer. Baltimore manager Dave Trembley had said early in Spring Training that he was leaning toward Sherrill, but he wanted to wait until after his team's off-day to start marking down roles.
Finally, with the Orioles less than two weeks from Opening Day, Trembley thought the time was right.
"Sherrill will be the closer on the club," he said Tuesday before Baltimore's game against Minnesota."I'm not ready to name an Opening Day starter yet. I'm not ready to name the bullpen. I'm not ready to name the backup catcher or utility infielder, but Sherrill and I have talked, and Sherrill will be the closer on the club."
Sherrill, who's served as a situational reliever for most of his career, took the news stoically. The southpaw told Trembley that he'd be willing to take the job, and then he told the media that he's been waiting most of his life.
"It feels good," said Sherrill, who was acquired from Seattle as part of a five-player package for Erik Bedard. "I think any short reliever wants to be a closer, wants to be the go-to guy. I think we're going to have a really special bullpen, so I think anybody in this bullpen is going to be good and could close. But to be named the one, that's pretty special."
The Orioles have known for a while that they wanted Sherrill to close, and he held up his end of the bargain by striking out six batters without walking anyone in his first five spring outings. Trembley said he wanted to gauge the veteran in a number of areas before he made any announcements, and he also said Sherrill easily passed most of his tests.
"I needed to see him go back-to-back. I needed to see him stretch out," he said. "Basically, what he was was a situational guy. We wanted to see him face right-handed hitters. Some of the things that we did in the back field with him, not only today but other times, is we tried to put right-handed hitters up there against him."
Facing right-handers is sure to be Sherrill's greatest challenge as a closer, and it's an area he knows he'll have to work on in order to improve. Sherrill has been used to face just a few lefties for most of his outings, and he's allowed right-handers to reach base (.370) at a far greater clip than left-handers (.220) over the last three seasons.
Sherrill knows he won't be able to pick and choose his spots as carefully as a closer, but he's both confident that he'll be able to make the adjustment and eager to prove that he can do it without much duress.
"Setting [J.J.] Putz up was an honor in itself. I had a chance to set up Eddie [Guardado] as well. It's just a 'Now I guess I get my shot' type of thing," he said. "I'm going to approach it the same way. I have to concentrate more on right-handed hitters now. I'm just going to sure to keep it the same and keep it as simple as possible."
"His command is such -- and the finish on his pitches -- that I don't think it matters if it's a right or left-handed hitter," added Trembley. "If we put him in there in the ninth, he'll be a guy that finishes the three outs. It won't be he gets two lefties out and then a righty comes up and I bring [Chad] Bradford in. I'm hoping I can stay away from that."
Sherrill, an undrafted free agent out of college, has taken quite an unorthodox route to the closer's chair. He got his start playing in an independent league and had to pitch there for four-plus seasons before Seattle signed him. After that, he spent two seasons splitting time between Triple-A Tacoma and the big leagues before breaking through for good.
Sherrill worked less than 50 innings in each of the last two seasons, but the Orioles saw the ingredients for something more. Yes, he only has four career big league saves, but Trembley knew what he wanted from Sherrill early in camp. Part of that has to do with the dearth of experienced competition, but part of it was decided as soon as Sherrill became an Oriole.
"We kind of had an agreement when camp started that we would let this play out," said Trembley. "He wants to do it. I think he's our best option right now. He's competitive. He has finish on his pitches. It doesn't bother him -- right or left-handed hitters. We're going to get that out of the way and he'll be the closer on this team when we start the season."
"When he first asked me, I wanted to tell him [yes]," added Sherrill. "He told me to hold off. I kind of wanted to make sure and just get the feel for it, just get my feet wet in the spring before I started to think about it."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.