Hoey finds his niche in the ninth inning

After elbow surgery, ex-starter is transformed

Minor leagues

June 12, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER | CHILDS WALKER,SUN REPORTER

James Hoey certainly looks the part.

At 6 feet 6 with a fastball that whizzes by at 95 mph and a nastily bending slider, the Orioles prospect is the type of pitcher managers love to roll out for the ninth inning.

The results also say he can handle the nerve-jangling work.

In his first 24 appearances for Single-A Delmarva, Hoey has 16 saves, a 2.84 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings. As a 23-year-old at low Single-A, he should be overpowering. But Hoey has convinced the Orioles he's a candidate for their bullpen someday.

"He really has that aggressive mentality to close," said Orioles minor league director David Stockstill. "He's taken to the role very well."

Delmarva pitching coach Kennie Steenstra agreed. "He has tremendous stuff for this level," Steenstra said. "His slider is especially impressive, and he definitely has that late-innings mentality."

When major league teams began using relief specialists, those pitchers had been starters in the minors. But in recent seasons, some clubs have opted to develop closers as late-inning specialists all the way through the minors.

Toronto's B.J. Ryan and Oakland's Huston Street, for example, started their careers as relievers and stayed that way.

Stockstill said the Orioles might have started Hoey if he had needed the innings to add another pitch. But he had his fastball, his slider and a decent change-up, so they left well enough alone.

"He's got very good command of all three pitches," Stockstill said.

Hoey was a 13th-round pick out of Rider University in 2003. He started in eight of 11 appearances during his first minor league season, posting a 2.79 ERA but striking out 20 batters in 42 innings at Rookie-level Bluefield. He lost most of the next two seasons to elbow surgery but has emerged this season as a dominant short reliever.

"He's been a very, very pleasant surprise," Stockstill said.

Because he was coming off elbow ligament reconstruction, more commonly known as Tommy John surgery, Hoey went to Delmarva to start this season. But given his age, the club wants him to move up quickly.

The Orioles see him as a late-inning man in the majors, but with Chris Ray entrenched at closer, he could end up being a setup man.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

On deck

On Wednesday, the Delmarva Shorebirds will host their first day-night doubleheader, playing Lakewood at 11:05 a.m. and 7:05 p.m.

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