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Rangers castoff Darren O’Day comes up huge for Orioles

Oct 6, 2012, 12:57 AM EDT

Darren O'Day AP

A workhorse submariner who often pitched a couple or three innings at a time, Darren O’Day had a 2.78 ERA in his final three seasons at the University of Florida. And it’s not like he went unnoticed while amassing a 0.87 ERA in 10 1/3 innings before the Gators lost in the finals of the College World Series in 2005.

Still, O’Day wasn’t among the 1,500 or so players chosen in the 2006 draft after wrapping up his collegiate career. He signed with the Angels for next to nothing and then promptly went about working his way up to the majors, pitching at five levels over the next two years before debuting with the Halos in 2008. He wasn’t a huge success, but he hardly embarrassed himself by posting a 4.57 ERA in 43 1/3 innings.

Unfortunately, O’Day was diagnosed with a torn labrum at season’s end. The Angels, thinking he wouldn’t contribute in 2009, dropped him from the 40-man roster. He went unclaimed on waivers, but then the Mets grabbed him in the Rule 5 draft in Dec. 2008. He made the team after rehabbing his shoulder, only to be jettisoned after allowing two unearned runs in three innings.

That’s when the Rangers stepped in and grabbed O’Day off waivers. He gave Texas two great seasons, finishing with a 1.94 ERA in 55 2/3 innings in 2009 and a 2.03 ERA in 62 innings in 2010.

Still, O’Day never stopped being viewed as a fringe talent. After hip and shoulder injuries limited him to 16 appearances in 2011, the Rangers waived him rather than commit $1.2 million-$1.5 million to him for 2012. The Orioles picked him up, signed him for $1.35 million and then watched him amass a 7-1 record and a 2.28 ERA in 67 innings as a middle reliever.

On Friday, he pitched two scoreless innings in the wild card win over Texas. The only hitter to reach against him did so on an infield single.

Because he throws in the mid-80s and relies so much on deception, O’Day may well always be one of those guys who is three bad weeks away from the waiver wire. But at least he doesn’t have to worry about that right now. Barring a late injury here, he’ll probably be brought back for $2 million-$2.5 million next year, easily his biggest payday yet.

So, let’s hear it for O’Day, a guy appreciated by neither scout nor computer after college. Up to this point, he’s had a better career than all but six or seven guys picked in the first round of what was actually a pretty strong draft in 2006, and only next season will his career earnings surpass the signing bonus that No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar got from the Royals that year.

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