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Mike DeJean: relief deuce?

While the Orioles' bullpen has been sharp overall this year, Mike DeJean (pronounced day-zhahn) has been so dismal that I'm wondering why manager Lee Mazzilli has sent him out there in six of the last nine games, three of which have resulted in DeJean taking the loss. If DeJean had not come to the Orioles with such a sturdy backing from the front office, he would be a top candidate to be released. His pitching line speaks an ugly truth:

Mike DeJean's 2004 standard statistics
10 9 2/3 18 11 9 13 9 0 3 0 8.38 6 5

IR: inherited runners; IS: inherited runners scored

Mike DeJean's 2004 rate statistics
8.38 12.10 0.69 3.21 2.57 .419 .525 .500 1.025

Stats from ESPN.com (supplied by STATS, Inc.)

There's not much light to be found in that darkness. The Orioles supposedly like him because his sinker and splitter can induce ground balls and an occasional strikeout when he's locating his pitches low. His career G/F ratio is 1.53. So far this year, it is an even higher 2.57, but so far those grounders are finding holes. On the bright side, DeJean is averaging nearly a strikeout per inning and has not yielded a home run despite filling the stadium with all manner of hard-hit balls. He has been betrayed by his defense at times (particularly last night), but his unsightly walk and hit rates indicate that he has beaten himself through a lack of command of his pitches. Batters have scorched DeJean for a .419 batting average, .525 OBP, and .500 slugging percentage. He has stranded but one of his six inherited runners. If he keeps this up for another month, DeJean may be De-gone.

The Orioles signed DeJean to a one-year, $1.5 million contract last December to be a multipurpose, middle-to-late reliever, essentially filling the role that Kerry Ligtenberg played last year. DeJean's career statistics suggest that he is fairly ordinary as relievers go, and not much different from Ligtenberg in terms of age or performance. He got some notoriety for being Milwaukee's closer-by-default for parts of 2002 and 2003, and the Cardinals thought enough of him to acquire him for their stretch drive last year, but I doubt that many fans in Baltimore had heard of him before he joined the Orioles.

An article by Roch Kubatko in today's Baltimore Sun details DeJean's latest miserable outing, in which he entered in the seventh inning of a 1-1 game, then gave up three runs on three singles, two walks, and a couple of fielding misplays while retiring just two batters. After the game, Mazzilli expressed confidence that DeJean will be able to turn it around.

"That was the spot for him right there. It just didn't pan out," Mazzilli said. "I don't want him to keep putting pressure on himself. He's just got to go out there and pitch."

DeJean, for his part, remains determined to keep plugging away until he gets it right.

"I chose to come to Baltimore and be an Oriole," DeJean said. "Hopefully I can give the fans something to cheer about sooner than later. I'm not going to back down. I'm not going to let my confidence get shaken."

It's true that DeJean is not likely to continue being this bad, but neither is he a sure bet to succeed. Looking back at his seven seasons as a big-league reliever, I see four that were above average (1997, 1998, 2001, 2002), one that was horrendous (1999), and two that were mediocre (2000, 2003). Four good years out of seven ain't bad, but it's not a track record with the consistency that inspires great patience.

I say stick DeJean in low-pressure situations (i.e., when the margin is three runs or more) for a while to see if he can iron out his problems. If he continues to falter for another month or two, a million and a half bucks is not too much to write off as a loss. Trouble is, there isn't an obvious replacement for DeJean waiting at Triple-A Ottawa. The Orioles' best pitching prospects are currently at Double-A and lower. John Stephens would have been a decent candidate if he were still in the organization, but he was picked up off waivers by the Red Sox last month. Of the Lynx pitchers on the 40-man major-league roster, Eddy Rodríguez is a marginal prospect who needs to polish his game against International League hitters. Ditto for Brian Forystek. If DeJean were let go, the Orioles might be better served by replacing him with a hitter. The upcoming return of Jerry Hairston may eventually force the Orioles' hand in that direction.

P.S. (May 5): I just noticed that righthander John Maine was promoted from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Ottawa on Monday. If he handles that level as well as he did his every other stop in the minors, he would probably be the main candidate, so to speak, to fill a spot on the Orioles' pitching staff come June or July.

Comments (1)

tim gasser:

Having one of my few opportunities to watch the O's this week, as they play out here in Seattle, I saw DeJean give another outstanding relief performance. Were it not for a very borderline call by Larry Hughes (more in line with a gift), the O's would have been looking at a 1 run game with the bases loaded.

DeJean keeps this up and O's fans will have to resurrect the moniker last applied to Brave's reliever Gasoline Gene Garber.


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