- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2007

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Todd Williams didn’t sulk after his most frustrating season in the major leagues. He learned from it.

Then the Baltimore Orioles reliever worked to make things right.

Williams injured his throwing shoulder early in spring training last year, then strained his calf while trying to return. He started the season on the disabled list and was ineffective after being activated in late April.

The right-hander allowed 17 of 39 inherited runners to score and went 2-4 with a 4.74 ERA. Opposing batters hit .323 off him, and he yielded a career-high eight homers in only 57 innings.

His 7-month struggle began on the first day of camp.

“I doubt he was in as good a shape as he should have come in, and then the [shoulder] injury compounded that,” manager Sam Perlozzo said. “It was an uphill battle for him the rest of the way.”

Determined to avoid making the same mistake, the 36-year-old pitcher worked harder this winter than ever before.

“I didn’t take much time off. I hooked up with a personal trainer and she basically just kicked my butt,” Williams said. “When I threw, I wasn’t focused on throwing strikes. I was just getting my arm ready, being smart and not overdoing it. So I do feel a lot better this year.”

The early results are encouraging. Williams threw a scoreless inning Thursday against Florida, which is exactly one more inning than he pitched all last spring. In the process, he showed Perlozzo that this year is going to be different.

“When I saw him over the winter, my main goal was make sure that he was keeping with the workout program and gotten into shape and was committed to coming into spring training healthy,” Perlozzo said. “When I saw him, that’s what he looked like. And he’s been throwing the ball pretty well.”

Partly because Williams struggled so mightily last season, the Orioles invested $42 million in reworking their bullpen. The addition of Danys Baez, Chad Bradford, Jamie Walker and Scott Williamson means Williams probably will begin the season in a new role.

Instead of working as the setup man or in the seventh inning, he can expect to be summoned earlier. Given his performance of a year ago, Williams isn’t complaining.

“The role will be based on how I throw. I’m flexible; they’ve seen me throw in all kinds of situations,” he said. “I’m comfortable knowing that as long as I stay healthy and throw, I’ll fit in somewhere.”

Just so long as it’s not on the disabled list.

“You learn a lot when you’re hurt. It’s not fun at all. You feel like everybody thinks you’re not hurt. But you are, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. “Last spring crushed me because I just couldn’t do anything. This year, as good a shape as I’m in, I still want to get into better shape.”

That’s just what Perlozzo wants to hear. Chris Ray will return as the closer and Baez appears destined to inherit the setup role from Williams and the departed LaTroy Hawkins, but if Williams continues to impress, he should see plenty of action.

“I think he’s coming in with something to prove,” Perlozzo said. “He’s got good life on the ball and good sink. I’m looking for him to rebound from last year.”

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