Road to Triple-A not easy for Bechler

NOTEBOOK

He debuts for Red Wings after whirlwind journey, then lands with Baysox

Minor-League Baseball

July 16, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Steve Bechler's Triple-A debut will be etched in his memory forever.

In Myrtle Beach, S.C., with his Frederick teammates, Bechler "was just hanging out in the clubhouse ready to go to the airport" for the Single-A All-Star Game in California when the call came.

"They told me I was going up and I thought they meant Bowie," said Bechler, a third-round pick in the 1998 draft. "Then I heard the trainer talking about Toledo and I was shocked, in awe."

Toledo meant Bechler would be pitching for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings instead of the Carolina League All-Stars, but it also meant a traveler's nightmare.

Bechler had to return to Frederick on an all-night bus ride from South Carolina, dash to his apartment, then catch a noon flight for Toledo at BWI that included a stop in Pittsburgh.

"I couldn't sleep the whole night. I was real nervous," said the right-hander, who led Orioles farmhands with 137 strikeouts last season. "There was no time for anything. I got to the hotel in Toledo at 5 p.m., to the field at 6 and the game was at 7. I hadn't eaten anything but USAir pretzels. I told them I was going to give it my best, but not to expect too much."

The results were predictable. Bechler felt fatigued and dizzy and was reeling when Toledo rocked him for 11 runs in less than three innings.

"I thought if this was the way it was going to be the whole season, I was going to be intimidated," Bechler said. "But I talked to Etch [Red Wing manager Andy Etchebarren] and he understood what I had to go through. Five days later, he pitched me again."

In his second start against Columbus, Bechler survived two early home runs, pitched five innings and earned a 5-3 victory. He left the Red Wings the next day with a 1-1 record and 15.95 ERA.

"I knew I wasn't going to be with Rochester the rest of the season or going back to Frederick," Bechler said. "But I'm glad I got the chance to show what I could do at the highest level of the minors."

Now comfortably ensconced in the Bowie rotation, the native of Medford, Ore., is labeled "a bulldog-type guy" by Baysox pitching coach Tom Burgmeier. "He has done very well in his starts for us."

Just before the Double-A All-Star break, Bechler combined with closer Aaron Rakers on a two-hitter that ended a seven-game losing streak. He has a 3.24 ERA and is on pace for about 180 innings at three different stops. Durability is one of his strengths.

At Frederick, he was a major cog in the Carolina League's No. 1 staff during first-half play, going 5-2 with a 2.27 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 83 1/3 innings.

"It was unbelievable there," he said. "Every guy would go out and try to do better than the last one. We were definitely loaded with pitching and blowing everybody out of the water.

"The Orioles seem to have a lot of faith in their young pitchers, and I'm obviously one of them. That gives me a lot of determination. It means a lot when a team is starting to use its own players."

Triple-A Rochester

Nineteen pounds slimmer, Calvin Pickering remains on a tear for the revitalized Red Wings. Despite going 0-for-2 in the Triple-A All-Star Game, Pickering is batting .380 with four homers over a 13-game span and was the Orioles organization's Hitter of the Month for June. He leads the International League in RBIs. One drawback: 90 strikeouts in 307 at-bats. ... Ryan Kohlmeier's first professional start after 249 relief appearances was successful. He allowed one hit over four scoreless innings and could be targeted for another start. The current closer, Jorge Julio, is 8-for-10 in save situations. ... Rochester is creeping up on Pawtucket in a bid to escape the North Division basement. The Wings won four straight for the first time this season and went 11-6 over a 17-game span. One reason is an upsurge in power. After hitting only 22 homers in the first 55 games, they hit 35 in the next 36 games, including at least one in 11 straight games. ... With catcher Sean Mulligan (back) expected to come off the disabled list, a move will have to be made. Mulligan is hitting .337 in seven games and has the only homer by a catcher. ... Leslie Brea has an 0.64 ERA in his past 14 innings. ... No decision has been made on whether Jay Spurgeon (3-5, 4.55 ERA) will need surgery for his dislocated shoulder. ... Rick Bauer was International League Pitcher of the Week and the Orioles organization's Pitcher of the Month for June.

Double-A Bowie

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