It didn't take the Orioles long to realize that Aaron Rakers had no business pitching in Bluefield.
A rookie-league club seemed like the logical place to begin the career of a 23rd-round draft pick. Allow him to get his feet wet before plunging into Single-A competition.
Who knew that Rakers would make such a big splash that Bluefield couldn't contain him?
He lasted three games there before being promoted to lower Single-A Delmarva, where he helped to settle a bullpen in such disarray it drew comparisons to the Orioles' relief corps during the first half.
After two shutout innings Saturday, Rakers is 4-1 with three saves and a 0.83 ERA, with 32 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings. Not coincidentally, Delmarva's bullpen had posted a 0.64 ERA in its previous 10 games heading into the weekend.
"He showed he had the ability and the knowledge to be able to pitch better at a higher level," said Don Buford, the Orioles' assistant director of player development. "The organization discovered in a short time that he could pitch at Delmarva."
Rakers, 22, was at his most dominant in an Aug. 7 home game against Hagerstown, when he allowed one hit and struck out nine in six shutout innings. He retired 17 of 18 batters, and struck out the last seven he faced.
"Each and every pitch he was throwing where he wanted to," Buford said.
A right-hander out of Southern Illinois University, Rakers has blended in nicely on a club with 11 first-year players. Then again, the way he's been throwing, he'd blend in anywhere.
"The groove that he's in and his mentality for pitching is outstanding," Buford said. "You're always happy when a player of that caliber excels immediately, but I can't say we thought he'd do this right away."
The Red Wings are 8-4 in their last 12 one-run games after beginning the season 4-20. Rochester committed an error in eight straight games, and 13 of 14, going into the weekend. Outfielder Eugene Kingsale went 5-for-5 with two doubles on Tuesday and was hitting .327 in 41 games with the Red Wings. Prone to injuries in the past, he's gotten the attention of Orioles manager Ray Miller. Second baseman Jerry Hairston has batted .348 with 10 doubles, two triples, a homer, 17 RBIs and 18 runs scored in 23 games since being sent down by the Orioles. He'll be back when rosters expand Sept. 1. Catcher/DH Julio Vinas began the weekend ranked 10th in the International League with a .312 average, led Rochester with 73 RBIs and was second in homers with 17. But he's not expected to be called up by the Orioles next month. Left-hander Terry Burrows, who missed a chunk of the season because of injury, allowed one run in six innings on Tuesday. Right-hander Rafael Pina and left-hander Radhames Dykhoff combined on a four-hit shutout of Buffalo on Wednesday. Left-hander B. J. Ryan threw two scoreless innings Thursday, striking out four. He had a 3.38 ERA in eight games with Rochester since being acquired from Cincinnati on July 31 for Juan Guzman.
The Baysox had a season-high 19 hits against New Haven on Wednesday, including eight in the third inning. Center fielder Luis Matos hit .391 (9-for-23) over a five-game stretch, including three homers and 10 RBIs. Over his last 30 games going into the weekend, Matos was batting .302 (39-for-129) with eight homers, 25 RBIs and 26 runs scored. He ranked third on the Baysox with 11 stolen bases and had hit eight homers in 48 games after hitting seven in 68 games at Single-A Frederick. Outfielder Wady Almonte also has been on a tear, batting .458 (11-for-24) with four doubles, a homer and eight RBIs in six games. He had hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games, batting .462 (24-for-52) with five doubles, three homers and 17 RBIs. Josh Towers is 5-0 with a 2.42 ERA in his last 10 starts. He hasn't lost since June 27. Catcher Jayson Werth returned from the disabled list and went 2-for-2 after entering as a pinch hitter on Wednesday. Cesar Devarez, who filled in for Werth while he nursed a wrist injury, hit safely in 13 of his last 15 games, batting .309 (17-for-55) with six doubles and 10 RBIs.
The Keys totaled 35 runs and 62 hits in a five-game stretch, and had at least 10 hits in nine of 12 games going into the weekend. Third baseman Ivanon Coffie was named the Carolina League's Player of the Week for the second time this season after hitting .462 (12-for-26) with three doubles, one triple, two homers and 10 RBIs. He also had an .888 slugging percentage. Over a 14-game stretch, Coffie batted .351 (20-for-57) with 11 RBIs. Shortstop Joey Hammond took a nine-game hitting streak into the weekend. During that time, he was 17-for-34 with three doubles, two homers and nine RBIs. First baseman Franky Figueroa was batting .338 (47-for-139) with four homers and 27 RBIs in his last 32 games. Second baseman Eddy Garabito had 19 RBIs in his last 14 games and was two behind Figueroa for the team lead despite hitting second most of the season.