Control, poise serve Keys' Stephens

Pitcher keeps hitters on toes by altering speed

Minor-league notebook

April 24, 2000|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

He was the recipient of the Palmer Prize, emblematic of the pitcher of the year in the Orioles' organization last summer after leading all minor-leaguers with 217 strikeouts while working at Delmarva.

Yet, there are no guarantees for Australian-born right-hander John Stephens.

"Every year he needs to prove himself at the next level," said Stephens' current manager, the Frederick Keys' Dave Machemer. "He's got control and great poise. "He's as good as I've ever seen for someone so young, but he won't overpower you."

Stephens, 20, bounced back last season from a 1998 neck injury that confined him to six starts.

"I had doctors who told me I couldn't throw again," Stephens said. "It was like whiplash, and I had damaged nerves in the arm. It took them quite awhile to find out what was wrong. I just rested for a few months and it eventually rebuilt itself."

He changes speeds, keeps hitters on their toes and throws his fastball in the mid-80s. "But the fastball looks like it's got lots more zip because he sets it up," Machemer said.

"John is an excellent fielding pitcher, he can pitch behind in the count because of his control and he doesn't hurt himself. You have to beat him."

A member of the Australian AAA national team in 1997, Stephens was a catcher as a youth, but then a coach put him on the mound when confronted with a pitching shortage. "He told me: `You're not catching anymore.' I enjoy pitching. It's a lot easier than hitting, I know that."

Stephens knows his road would be a "lot easier" if he were the flame-thrower the major leagues covet. "But I figure they'll like outs a lot more than velocity."

Now 2-1 with a 2.12 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 17 innings, Stephens has been compared with Rochester's Josh Towers, another who spots the ball just about anywhere he wants it at anytime.

"I'm moving the ball in and out all the time," he said. "When the guy's looking away, you want to be coming in. You've got to find the weaknesses."

Triple-A Rochester

Matt Riley is out for an indefinite period with a strained rotator cuff. He started the home opener in 12-degree wind chill and pitched poorly. The left-hander is 0-2 with a 14.14 ERA and his fastball has lost 6 mph. ... An offensive shortage has been the real problem for Rochester, which was batting .236 as a team and averaging three runs a game. Calvin Pickering is off to another struggling, cold-weather start (.143 with more steals than home runs , 2-1) and is reportedly battling weight troubles again. ... The bullpen has no saves and Gabe Molina was hit hard (two runs, four hits in one inning) during his first appearance back from Baltimore. ... The Red Wings had three rainouts and two days off during the first two weeks, leaving the starters to pitch with a week's rest. It didn't bother Jason Johnson before his call-up. He had an 0.98 ERA and threw the only complete-game shutout in the International League. ... OF Luis Matos, replacing injured Eugene Kingsale at Triple-A, has no RBIs.

Double-A Bowie

The Baysox have been smoking. During an eight-game winning streak -- equaling the longest in club history -- Bowie outscored its opposition, 64-10, and the pitching staff went 38 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings. Four straight shutouts during that span included a seven-inning no-hitter by Sean Douglass (six innings, 96 pitches) and Jimmy Hamilton, who went on to retire 11 straight out of the bullpen. ... IF Ivanon Coffie was the first Eastern League player of the week after batting .421 with 16 hits. Included was a grand slam and the first five-hit game by a Bowie player in two years. ... In the everyday line, all nine players had between five and 10 RBIs. ... Veteran IF Rick Short had eight straight hits, a franchise record, and took over the league batting lead at .435. ... Bowie heads the league in both team batting (.305) and pitching (2.53 ERA). ... Manager Andy Etchebarren continues to fill out his lineup card with the opponent in red ink and Bowie in green ink after winning a game at Akron. ... IF Carlos Casimiro and C Adan Amezcua joined the team from extended spring training and P John Parrish was promoted to Rochester.

Single-A Frederick

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