Hale still has major goal

First-round pick in '00 revives career marred by shoulder problems

Baseball

Minor leagues

June 05, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER | CHILDS WALKER,SUN REPORTER

Around this time in 2000, Orioles scouts could hardly have been happier.

The club had just drafted Beau Hale, a sturdy right-hander from the storied University of Texas program who could throw his fastball through a brick wall. For all they knew, they had selected the next Roger Clemens.

But six years down the line, Hale's career is a reminder that the seeming truths of draft day are often just the first lines in complicated stories.

"It's not always a fairy-tale book," said Hale, 27, now pitching for Double-A Bowie. "My career is a testament to that."

Everything started out well enough. Hale buzzed through his first run at Single-A. He loved being a first-rounder. (He received a then-franchise record $2.25 million bonus.)

"It's a life-changing event," he said. "One day you're a college kid eating ramen noodles every day, and the next you're not."

He struggled a bit when he reached Bowie but that seemed natural for a young man trying to control a mighty fastball.

Come 2002, however, Hale's arm hurt after every start. It hurt enough that he couldn't do much fine-tuning between outings. The walks and hits piled up, and the strikeouts didn't. Finally, he went through his motion one day and felt a pain "like someone was stabbing a knife in my shoulder."

He walked off cradling his arm and wouldn't pitch again for more than two years.

For six months, he tried to rehabilitate his shoulder to prevent surgery, but it didn't improve. Another doctor told him he had to have his rotator cuff repaired. Fine, he thought. At least he'd be back in a year. But six months after the surgery, his arm hurt worse than ever. It turned out his sutures had never dissolved and he'd built up a mass of scar tissue. That meant another surgery that wiped out the 2004 season as well.

By that point, Hale wondered if he should just quit. "My mind frame coming into 2005 was that I had to make something happen or it might be time to turn the page," he said.

Hale got back on the mound for Frederick last season. That alone was an accomplishment. But his arm still hurt between outings. "I could never string together more than a couple of weeks feeling OK," he said.

That has changed this season. Hale can finally pitch Monday and feel he can go again Tuesday.

"I can go out there without thinking about the shoulder," he said. "I can just strap it in and go. It's the first time I've felt that way since 2001. I can actually work on things, actually practice my craft."

In 29 1/3 innings as a reliever and spot starter for Bowie and Fredrick this season, he has a 3.68 ERA with 22 strikeouts and six walks.

"It's amazing how far he's come," said Orioles minor league director David Stockstill.

Hale's fastball doesn't reach the mid-90s like it did in college, but he can still hit 93 mph here and there. He said he's more worried about controlling his pitches within the strike zone. He lost that sharpness during his 2 1/2 years without pitching.

Hale's future is uncertain. He's been passed by a whole generation of Orioles pitching prospects and knows that his best shot to make the majors now might be as a middle reliever.

Stockstill isn't sure if Hale will be a starter or reliever but said he still has a chance to make the majors. "Anybody who throws 93-94 mph and has a good breaking ball has a chance," he said.

That's all Hale wanted during the time he missed. "I'll pitch until they release me," he said.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

3 UP, 3 DOWN

Up

Paco Figueroa -- Second baseman has a .372 on-base percentage and 15 steals for Single-A Frederick.

Ryan Finan -- First baseman leads Single-A Delmarva regulars with a .389 on-base percentage, seven homers and 32 RBIs.

Winston Abreu -- Veteran middle reliever has a 2.93 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings for Triple-A Ottawa.

Down

Leo Daigle -- The veteran first baseman is batting .243 with 59 strikeouts in 50 games for Double-A Bowie.

Reid Hamblet -- The right-hander is 2-4 with a 4.39 ERA and has allowed 87 baserunners in 55 1/3 innings for Single-A Delmarva.

Brandon Snyder -- Last year's first-round pick is back from the disabled list but batting .200 for the season at Delmarva.

[Childs Walker]

On deck

The Bowie Baysox will host the Binghamton Mets and top pitching prospect Mike Pelfrey for a three-game series this weekend.

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