Penn rebuilds command and control

Minor leagues

May 08, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER | CHILDS WALKER,SUN REPORTER

Unlike most of his teammates at Triple-A Ottawa, Hayden Penn has had the exhilaration of a big league start.

At age 21, he could also tell them a thing or two about failure.

Until last May, when he was called to Baltimore, Penn had been the organization's golden prospect. The right-hander had used his fastball and changeup to overwhelm hitters at Double-A Bowie. One April night, he had pitched six innings of no-hit ball.

He pitched decently for the Orioles at first with a 2-0 record and a 4.23 ERA in five starts. But over his next 5 2/3 innings, he allowed 12 runs and earned a trip back to Bowie. Penn learned that in the major leagues, his lack of a consistent breaking pitch was a real impediment. So was his lack of fine control over the fastball.

His loss of command stemmed largely from fatigue, said David Stockstill, the club's director of minor league operations.

"I think the biggest thing he learned was not to get too high when things were going good and not to get too low when they weren't," Stockstill said. "It's a process that everybody goes through, one that eliminates and divides."

Penn seemed to lose focus to the extent that he couldn't deal with the same Double-A hitters he had mastered months earlier. His struggles proved temporary, however, and coming into this year's spring camp, the Orioles hoped he might compete for a job in the major league rotation.

His spring numbers, a 2.45 ERA in 11 innings, were solid. But the Orioles weren't happy with Penn's arm strength or his breaking ball. He was left behind for extended spring training in Florida.

"We kind of hoped that he'd come in and pitch so well in the spring that, you know, he'd make competition out there or, you know, create a trade if you had to, if he pitched well enough," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said. "But he just didn't."

Stockstill agreed.

"I wasn't that happy with him," he said. "His velocity wasn't where it had been. He's a special prospect, so we wanted to make sure that he was strong enough to throw at least 100 pitches in a game to start the season."

Stockstill said Penn made the best of his extra time in Florida, adding zip to his fastball and honing his curve.

On Wednesday, he showed what all the fuss was about, pitching seven innings of no-hit ball with six strikeouts and two walks. He mixed a 95-mph fastball with precise curves. In 12 innings for Ottawa this season, he's allowed four hits and no runs.

"He's throwing the ball outstanding," Stockstill said.

Such performances have been noticed in Baltimore, where Perlozzo keeps a sideways eye on the youngster's progress.

"It's always great insurance for us here," the manager said. "If you're a great organization, you can afford for one of your starters to go down and then reach down and grab at least one guy who can fill your starting rotation and not miss a beat. And you know, he's got that potential."

Stockstill said Penn would benefit from more time in Triple-A but wouldn't be overwhelmed if promoted to the majors. He seems the most likely call-up should Perlozzo permanently remove struggling Bruce Chen from the rotation.

"He's the one who has the arm strength, who has the pitches, who's had the success where we feel like he's the most ready to make a difference," Stockstill said.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

On deck

The Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds' six-game homestand begins tomorrow against the Lakewood Blue Claws. The Philadelphia Phillies affiliate features one of the South Atlantic League's best pitchers, Matthew Maloney.

3 up, 3 down

Up

Lorenzo Scott Jr. -- The outfielder and leadoff hitter for Single-A Delmarva has a .417 on-base percentage and 12 steals in 13 attempts.

Beau Hale -- The first-round pick in 2000 missed 2003 and 2004 with a shoulder injury but is rounding back to form for Single-A Frederick with a 2-0 record, 2.30 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings.

Brian Finch -- In six starts, he is 2-2 with a 2.48 ERA for Double-A Bowie.

Down

Jeff Fiorentino -- Last season's surprise call-up was hitting only .207 through Saturday for Bowie.

Esix Snead -- The speedster was batting .190 for Triple-A Ottawa through Saturday. He does have 15 walks and eight steals.

Cory Morris -- After a brief call-up to Baltimore, Morris has struggled with his control at Ottawa with 12 walks in 19 1/3 innings. He is 0-3 with a 3.72 ERA.

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