Strop's stopping the slump

MINNEAPOLIS - Orioles reliever Pedro Strop seems to have straightened himself out after an extremely rough stretch of games.

His cap is still crooked, but he's straightened out.

More on that later.

Strop tossed another scoreless inning yesterday at Target Field, again throwing eight of 12 pitches for strikes, just as he did Saturday night. Velocity good. Movement on his slider good. Results good.

Strop hasn't allowed an earned run in his last 10 outings, and he hasn't permitted a run or hit in the last six. Control was a bigger issue, but he's walked one and struck out six in his last five appearances.

"I've been working and getting my feeling back," Strop said. "Mechanically-wise, I try to stay closed as much as I can. It's been getting me to the position where I want to be."

It became apparent that Strop's confidence suffered as he tried to find the plate. He's issued nine walks in 14 innings, hit a batter and thrown four wild pitches.

"Obviously, when you're doing good things, it's going to bring your confidence back," he said. "You want (the ball) right there and you see that you're controlling yourself and, of course, that brings me my confidence."

Strop hasn't suffered in silence. He's spoke many times to pitching coach Rick Adair, and he's been counseled by closer Jim Johnson.

"I've been getting help from coaches, my teammates," he said. "Jim Johnson's been helping me a lot, because he's pretty much a sinker pitcher. Sometimes, it's not that easy getting those pitches where you want them. It's all about rhythm and location. Like when you've got to aim at some different spots and the ball moves. It's different. And he knows a lot about sinker pitchers. He's been helping me a lot, telling me about my preparation before I go into the game, and I think it's been a big key for me."

OK, so, what's up with the cap being tilted to the left?

"It's a habit," Strop said, grinning. "I don't know if it's a bad habit or a good habit, but it's just a habit. If I put it straight after a pitch, it's going to go back to the side."

Not on its own. Strop has a tendency to tug on the edge of his bill without giving it a thought. Sort of like Adam Jones blowing that bubble while chasing a fly ball.

"You know how all pitchers have something after they throw the ball," he said. "They may tug on their pants sometimes. My thing is the hat somehow. I don't know.

"When I was with the Rangers, the pitching coach was always barking, like, 'No, no, I want the hat straight.' But it wasn't something I meant to do. Maybe when I was younger I meant to do it, and then it became a habit where I just go like this."

Strop offers a demonstration in front of his locker. He knows it's silly. I make sure he knows that I'm only asking on behalf of the fans who are curious about it. Or infuriated over it.

"It's just something where, it's going to go back there," he said. "I don't mean to do it. It's kind of crazy."

It's not a big deal to the Orioles. They just want Strop to get hitters out.

"I know we've been using Pete in a little different situation," said manager Buck Showalter, "but I wouldn't be hesitant to use him in whatever role right now."

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