Molina closes in, 1 save at a time Reliever aids big-league bid with sterling jump to Bowie

Minor League Baseball

August 31, 1998|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

He may be the least known of the better pitching prospects in the Orioles' farm system.

Last season with Delmarva's South Atlantic League championship team, Gabe Molina was a vital part of a bullpen force that was virtually untouchable.

If a Shorebirds starter got into the sixth inning, the game was usually over because Molina, then left-hander Scott Eibey, then closer Ryan Kohlmeier, were sensational all season.

All three were promoted past the high Single-A level (Frederick) this spring, but only Molina has survived with the Bowie Baysox.

"That bullpen was the heart of the team," Molina said. "The offense knew that if we could go to our relievers, the pressure was off them."

Now 23, Molina has persevered at Double-A with the help of his collegiate experience (Arizona State) and winter work in Australia, work ethic and two quality pitches, including a fastball in the low 90s.

"I think he has made a big stride forward coming from lower A," Bowie manager Joe Ferguson said. "With him, it's just a matter of command and he's gotten better as we've gone along."

Opposing batters hit only .183 against Molina last season, 14th best among minor-league relievers. And he finished strong with 11 strikeouts among the final 14 hitters he faced.

This season, he has broken the Baysox's save record with 21, is averaging almost 11 strikeouts per nine innings and has allowed only a .225 average. And he is finishing strong again, with a win and eight saves in his past 12 appearances.

"Doc Gooden and Fernando [Valenzuela] were young and in their prime when I was growing up," said Molina, a Colorado native. "I always wanted to be like them."

It wasn't easy living in the Rocky Mountains where the high school season is restricted.

"We only had 16 games and some of them were in snow or real cold," he said. "What helped was a lot of summer ball."

Molina started playing football in high school and quickly developed into an all-state running back. But baseball had his heart.

"I got some scholarship offers for football [one from San Diego State], but baseball was my sport," he said. "I took the baseball scholarship and when the Orioles drafted me, there wasn't any question it was time to go pro."

He has pitched in every conceivable role since going unbeaten at Bluefield in 1996. Now, he loves closing.

"I love going out there often," Molina said. "I think I've made a lot of progress and I finally realize I'm getting close to the big leagues."

Triple-A Rochester

The team has been officially eliminated from playoff contention for the first time since 1994 and the first time under manager Marv Foley. Despite the poor showing on the field, Rochester probably will break its attendance record of 512,570 set last year, the first at Frontier Field. Willis Otanez was the first Red Wing since Jim Fuller (1973) to drive home 100 runs. Bobby Munoz allowed his first earned run at home since April 30 last week. He also took his first loss in the game. Pitcher Jim Converse (2-8, 4.90 ERA) was traded to the Texas organization.

Double-A Bowie

Eugene Kingsale's first pro home run, a monstrous drive over three fences, came after 1,028 at-bats. Calvin Pickering entered the weekend having reached base 239 times with 91 walks and 10 hit-by-pitches. He led the Eastern League in on-base percentage (.433). Ray Hedrick, the team's director of amusement facilities, left to become assistant baseball coach at Shenandoah (Va.) College. There is a move afoot to have versatile Howie Clark play all nine positions, probably on Sunday at Prince George's Stadium. Now throwing from the stretch and using a slide step, Jason Rogers permitted only nine hits in a stretch of 17 1/3 innings.

Single-A Frederick

With their outfield decimated by injuries to Maleke Fowler (shoulder), Craig Daedelow (elbow surgery) and D. C. Conner (broken leg), the Keys received Ntema Ndungidi and Ashanti Davison from Bluefield. Ndungidi, the sandwich pick in the 1997 draft, batted .414 with 25 RBIs in his past 19 games. Ryan Kohlmeier has thrived since being demoted from Bowie, picking up five saves in six games with eight strikeouts and one walk.

Single-A Delmarva

This team is likely to carry the Orioles' playoff banner alone, having clinched a South Atlantic League wild-card berth after an 8-3 homestand. The Shorebirds will be home in the first round tonight. Franky Figueroa led a resurgence by the Delmarva bats with a 10-game hitting streak that included doubles in five straight games and Eddy Garavito drove in runs in nine straight. Jay Spurgeon is the hottest pitcher with six winning decisions in a row, but he and phenom Matt Riley were being withheld from the final regular-season series at Hagerstown to pitch the first two playoff games. Joey Hammond (Thomas Johnson) set a team record with six RBIs in a game.

Rookie leagues

Neither Bluefield (33-34) nor Gulf Coast (28-32) made the postseason. This year's first draftee, Rick Elder, batted .340 at Gulf Coast with 26 RBIs in 29 games.

Pub Date: 8/31/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.