Time off turns Stahl's career back on

Back, big hopes mended

runs still eluding Wings

Minor-league notebook


May 14, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Last July, the Orioles decided it was time to give Richard Stahl's back some attention.

Bothered by pain in the lower back that involved three stress fractures, the No. 1 draft choice from 1999 was shut down while his team, the Delmarva Shorebirds, enjoyed an unlikely romp to the South Atlantic League championship. His stock was too valuable.

A winter of rehabilitation brought the 6-foot-7 left-hander back to par. Stahl returned to the Shorebirds in fine form, his mid-90s fastball ripping and snorting. After an impressive start against a veteran-laden Lexington team, Stahl was promoted to high-Single-A Frederick, his career back in high gear.

In his first start for the Keys, Stahl continued to impress, allowing Wilmington no earned runs and six hits over 6 2/3 innings. And he just turned 20 years old.

"He's such a young kid and we worked with him diligently on his mechanics," said the Shorebirds' Joe Ferguson, until recently Stahl's only professional manager. "We tried to get him to use his legs properly, load better, stay back and get his arm out in front. We want him to have a consistent release point. It's all starting to come together."

Stahl is a relative stringbean at 190 pounds, so leverage before he delivers is extremely important. He has tended to be erratic.

"My walks are coming down a lot," said Stahl, who issued 51 in only 89 innings last season. "I'm pleased with that. I'd like to have a 3-to-1 ratio [strikeouts to walks]. I'm trying to work deeper into games this year and not strike out people so much."

The Orioles used to have a farm club in Albany, Ga., where Stahl was raised, and he remembers watching the Polecats play as a youth. Now he is on his way to Baltimore.

"Now I have an idea where to pitch guys," he said. "I have a plan."

Triple-A Rochester

Excellent starting pitching, but a shaky bullpen and little power at the plate continue to symbolize the Red Wings, who returned home from a 5-3 road trip still last in the International League East. The starters, led by Calvin Maduro (2.22 ERA, second in the IL), have a 3.45 ERA, while the bullpen is at 5.55. In five consecutive games, the team allowed just six runs. But Rochester is last in the league in runs (129) and home runs (14). ... Jay Spurgeon took a no-hitter through one out in the ninth against Indianapolis before a hit by Alex Sanchez broke it up. Spurgeon won the game, 3-1. No one has pitched a nine-inning no-hitter for the Red Wings since Wayne Garland in 1974. ... Calvin Pickering, who started uncommonly hot at the plate, slipped in May with an 0-for-17 skid. He is 0-for-22 against left-handed pitching.

Double-A Bowie

Jorge Julio has returned to his dominant self with Bowie after an unsuccessful stint with the Orioles. In 9 1/3 innings, he has permitted only one run and one walk and has struck out 12. ... Aaron Rakers, who assumed the closer's role when Julio was promoted, has allowed only three earned runs in 10 2/3 innings, all on home runs. ... The surprise of the pitching staff has been Miguel Felix, who has turned in five consecutive quality starts and leads the team with a 2.50 ERA. ... As a whole, the Baysox's staff is averaging fewer than two walks per nine innings. ... The team has had a ..500 record 12 times since it was at 5-5. ... Edwin Rogers had a hit in five straight games after bottoming out at .146. ... Franky Figueroa, an erstwhile slugger who strikes out a lot, has had his average above .300 after every game since April 14, but has not homered in more than a month.

Single-A Frederick

The Keys remain the best pitching team in the Carolina League (3.05 ERA) and the worst at bat (.224). The pitching staff is led by Sonny Garcia, second in the league with a 1.42 ERA, and Steve Bechler, fourth at 1.98. ... No. 1 draft choice Keith Reed had a 12-game hitting streak, longest by a Key this season. He batted .341 during the surge. ... Jovanny Sosa hit four home runs in his first seven games after joining the team from extended spring. ... The team leads the league in attendance, thanks to some massive turnouts for fireworks nights. ... Former Oriole Larry Sheets served as the color commentator on CN8's telecasts of two Frederick games last weekend.

Single-A Delmarva

After starting the season 8-4, Delmarva lost 11 of 16 games to fall below .500. The starting pitching has floundered recently, giving up 43 earned runs in 56 2/3 innings, and Matt Tate replaced Bradley Rogers in the No. 2 slot before being replaced himself by Matt Schwager, a long-time reliever. And the offense has tailed off as well, averaging fewer than three runs over the past 13 games. ... Rick Elder, whose sensational start including an 11-game hitting streak, remains in the top five in the South Atlantic League in six offensive categories, but has not maintained his early pace, batting .258 over the past 18 games.

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