Orioles make Escalona signing official

Pitcher Edgmer Escalona passed his physical, and the Orioles announced this afternoon that they signed the free-agent right-hander to a one-year contract.

Escalona, 27, went 1-4 with a 5.67 ERA with the Rockies this season, posting career highs in appearances (37), innings (46) and strikeouts (34). He currently ranks fourth in the Venezuelan Winter League with a 2.10 ERA in 34 1/3 innings over six starts.

In four major league seasons with the Rockies, Escalona went 1-5 with a 4.50 ERA in 78 relief appearances, striking out 6.4 batters per nine innings. He was 19-16 with a 3.85 ERA and 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 259 career relief outings over eight minor league seasons.

The Rockies signed Escalona as a non-drafted free agent on Sept. 8, 2004.

Orioles scouts have been monitoring Escalona in Venezuela and reported on the development of a split-finger changeup that complements his 94 mph fastball and slider. Left-handers are batting .173 against him.

“He’s a big, strong guy - 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds - and he has a good arm,” said executive vice president Dan Duquette. “The thing that got our attention is he’s developing a changeup as well that’s helping him get out left-handed hitters.

“He’s got about two years experience in Colorado. He’s a hard-throwing righty, but we feel like he’s developing pitches that he needs to succeed in the big leagues. He’s got a weapon for left-handed hitters now.”

Escalona, 27, has exclusively been a reliever in the majors, but he’s starting in Venezuela to refine the changeup. Whether he starts or relieves with the Orioles “can be decided in camp,” Duquette said.

“He’s got youth and a powerful fastball,” Duquette said, “and he’s developing the pitches he needs to be an established major leaguer.”

The Orioles have 33 players on their 40-man roster, and they will add “a few more a little bit later today,” Duquette said. Single-A pitcher Tim Berry and catcher Michael Ohlman remain strong possibilities despite lacking experience above the Carolina League.

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