Jim Hoey made his major league debut with the Orioles against the Minnesota Twins at Camden Yards in August 2006.
Flash forward more than four years, past 35 primarily nondescript relief appearances, a shoulder injury, an exhausting rehabilitation and a trade.
On Monday, Hoey finally made it back to the majors for the first time since September 2007. Again, he was at Camden Yards, this time pitching for the Twins against the Orioles.
"Coming back was ironic," said Hoey, who was promoted to help fill the Twins' late-inning void now that former closer Joe Nathan has been put in lower-pressure situations. "It's where I started my career, and my first game was against [the Twins]. And now I am pitching against the Orioles with these guys. It's good to be back. I have pitched here before, plenty of times, so it is more of a comfortable feeling."
Hoey, 28, once was considered a late-inning relief prospect with the Orioles after being drafted in the 13th round out of Rider in 2003. He spent parts of two seasons in the big leagues, going 3-5 with an 8.13 ERA in 2006-2007. But a shoulder injury cost him all of 2008 and made him wonder whether he would be in the big leagues again.
"That was the toughest part. After I had that surgery, there was a point where I thought my career was over," he said. "My arm just wasn't responding the way I wanted to respond."
Hoey spent all of 2009 at Double-A Bowie and pitched well enough there and at Triple-A Norfolk in 2010 to be added to the Orioles' 40-man roster. Within weeks, he was dealt to the Twins, along with pitcher Brett Jacobson, for shortstop J.J. Hardy and infielder Brendan Harris.
"It is definitely a fresh start, definitely a motivational tool. Especially being traded, that means someone else wanted you," Hoey said. "So it is easy to give yourself the motivation to go, 'Hey, I've got to pitch well for this team, knowing they wanted me and went for me, and I need to show them something in return.'"
He showed plenty Monday, retiring all four Orioles he faced in his Twins debut, including a strikeout of Mark Reynolds. He hit 97 mph on the stadium radar gun several times and featured a nasty split-fingered fastball he worked on while in the minors this month.
Hoey said he wasn't nervous about facing his old team Monday. He got that out of the way this spring, when he pitched against the Orioles four times, including two scoreless appearances followed by two rough outings in which he served up homers to Adam Jones and Nolan Reimold and was tagged for five earned runs in 12/3 innings.
"In spring training, I was [too excited], I threw a little and did well and then they hit me a little bit and I was like: 'All right, now I've got to pitch. I can't go out there and just throw the baseball," Hoey said. "I feel like I did that last night and kept them off-balance. I changed speeds and used my pitches to my advantage."
Rapada sets tone
Left-handed sidearmer Clay Rapada, who was promoted from Triple-A Norfolk on Monday, said his adrenaline wasn't in overdrive in the seventh inning Monday, his first time in the majors since October with the Texas Rangers.
"It was more the pressures of just wanting to do well," said Rapada, who signed a minor league deal with the Orioles this winter. "You always want to do well, but I felt like that first one set the tone."
Consider the tone set. With a runner on second and two outs and the Orioles trailing 3-0, Rapada struck out Minnesota's Denard Span to end the inning. He retired all three batters he faced in the eighth, including two more on strikeouts. His line: four batters, one groundout and three strikeouts looking.
"I feel like I did a pretty good job," Rapada said. "I really don't remember the last time I struck out three looking."
Gregg's early woes
Reliever Kevin Gregg hasn't pitched particularly well this season, including his outing Monday, in which he walked the leadoff batter in the ninth inning and surrendered two runs. It was his first appearance since he blew a save Thursday when he allowed Jorge Posada to homer on his first pitch.
Gregg was showered by boos Monday and hammered by talk-radio callers and Internet posters Tuesday, but Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he is not too concerned.
"Kevin has a pretty long track record," Showalter said of Gregg, who saved 37 games for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010. "We have a pretty good idea of where it's going to be at the end of the season. He's had experience [getting booed]. There are expectations of everybody being good every night. ... When the game's over, you have to look at the bigger picture."