- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Losing 19 games in 2000 doesn’t qualify as the worst season of pitcher Omar Daal’s career. Not by his standards anyway.

Daal views last year as the low-point, even with eight fewer defeats on his record. The Orioles signed him to a two-year, $7.5million free-agent contract, but he was injured, ineffective and replaced in the starting rotation.

Not exactly the best impression to make on a new team.

Entering his 12th season in the majors, Daal is revitalized, in part because the tendinitis in his left rotator cuff is gone. He’s confident that 2004 will treat him much better.

“Whatever happened last year was last year,” said Daal, who celebrated his 32nd birthday Monday. “I was frustrated and embarrassed, but I’m ready now. I’ll do whatever is best for this team.”

That might not include pitching in the rotation.

Daal is vying for the fifth spot, but he must fend off Matt Riley, once the jewel of the farm system who’s recovered from ligament transplant surgery in his left elbow. Riley has another minor league option, so the club can send him down to Class AAA Ottawa. It also could decide to make Daal a $4.5million long reliever — not the best solution for either side — package him in a trade or release him.

Few guarantees come for a pitcher who went 4-11 with a 6.34 ERA the previous season and missed two months because of injury. And the likelihood of Daal starting for the Orioles becomes more improbable if he struggles in exhibition games the way he did last spring, when his ERA stood at 6.95 and an entire organization groped for answers.

“I just want to stay healthy,” Daal said. “Whatever my situation is here, I’m just going to work hard and do my job any time they give me the ball. If they want to hand me the ball as a starter, I’m more than happy to take it.”

Daal rebounded from a 19-loss season to go 13-7 with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2001. After going 8-12 with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998, he won 16 games the next season.

“He’s had some ups and downs,” pitching coach Mark Wiley said, “but he’s persevered.”

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