Make-or-break for Mickolio?

It's a sleepy Sunday in the Kubatko household, mainly because I didn't get home from the Maryland-FSU game until 2 a.m. That tailgate traffic leaving the stadium is brutal, and I wasn't even tailgating.

Maryland officials wouldn't let me fire up the grill in the press box.

I'm not going to reveal my breakout spring training player at this early date, but you have to wonder whether Kam Mickolio is just teasing us with that 0.75 ERA in the Arizona Fall League, which he posted before yesterday's scoreless inning in the championship game. The two walks and 18 strikeouts from a reliever with command issues and challenges in repeating his delivery have to bring at least a smattering of encouragement.

Mickokio just needs to dial it up when the real bell rings.

Spring training and AFL stats are nice and all, but he allowed three runs and five hits, and walked three batters, in 3 2/3 innings with the Orioles this summer. He was 4-3 with a 6.37 ERA, 17 walks and 48 strikeouts in 30 appearances covering 35 1/3 innings at Triple-A Norfolk after Baseball America named him the organization's eighth-best prospect, and he also dealt with some health issues.

You'll recall that Mickolio had a 1.93 ERA in nine spring training games, and former manager Dave Trembley kept raving about him. Mickolio was recalled from Norfolk on April 15, returned on April 27 and never resurfaced in the majors.

Mickolio was 2-2 with an 8.05 ERA in 18 games with Norfolk in the first half, and 2-1 with a 4.41 ERA in 12 games after the break. Right-handers hit .346 with a .901 OPS against him, compared to the .243 average and .721 OPS posted by lefties.

Go figure.

You can't pencil him into the 2011 Opening Day bullpen, but the Orioles would love to see him emerge as another late-inning power arm with his mid-to-upper 90s fastball and hard slider. It would be a little easier to part with David Hernandez if Mickolio was deemed ready.

Trembley believes that Mickolio, who turns 27 in May, has closer stuff. He just needs to flash it for an extended period.

Say, 162 games.

The Grapefruit League and AFL don't count.

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