'Pen for your thoughts

It wasn't too long ago that we were fretting over David Hernandez's tendency to walk batters and give up home runs. Now he's looking like a potential closer.

I see no reason to hang that label on him, or anyone else, as I've pointed out. Hernandez doesn't have to be the automatic choice in the ninth inning. Alfredo Simon doesn't have to be the automatic choice in the ninth inning. Go with the hot hand - or the more rested arm.

Interim manager Juan Samuel has indicated that Simon will close once the right-hander comes off the disabled list, which is expected to happen next week. But he also said that he could use Hernandez in that role when Simon is unavailable.

You get the feeling that the Orioles don't want to convert Hernandez this early in his major league career. He's already been a starter-turned-reliever, which required certain adjustments. It figured to be long relief, but his power arm is appealing in the later innings.

Just how late is open to debate.

This isn't a sudden revelation. I recall scouts and people inside the organization projecting Hernandez as a future one- or two-inning reliever from the time he was pitching at Single-A Frederick.

The question becomes, should Hernandez be auditioned as the closer in a season that's all about development, evaluation and experimentation, or should Simon reclaim the job and Hernandez become the eighth-inning set-up man in Jim Johnson's absence?

Maybe it's a trick question. Maybe the answer is "none of the above," and Samuel should make that decision on a game-by-game basis.

Samuel would probably prefer to have defined roles for his relievers, which is true of most managers.

One of these hard-throwing right-handers could be the closer, the other one the set-up man, with Will Ohman the left-handed specialist, Frank Mata the right-handed specialist/seventh-inning guy, Jason Berken/Matt Albers a middle reliever and Brad Bergesen the long man. Mark Hendrickson could go back to being a jack-of-all-trades, similar to last year, when he entered games at various points with varying duties. Retire a left-hander, cover an entire inning, absorb multiple innings to save the bullpen.

Berken also could be a right-handed version of Hendrickson and spell Bergesen as a long man.

You'll notice that we have an extra reliever. Somebody has to go once Simon returns, and Mata no longer is the automatic choice. Albers is out of options, and once again he's crept dangerously close to being out of chances. We'll see.

Samuel indicated yesterday that the Orioles weren't going to make any other roster moves in the near future beyond activating Simon, but they'll have to decide whether Bergesen's development is being hindered by having him sit in the bullpen and wait for a starter to make an early exit. He might be better served starting every five days for Triple-A Norfolk.

We'll see.

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