Stephenson downshifts for climb


Twice, he has been disappointed that he was sent to a lower level than he expected.

It started after 1993, when Garrett Stephenson and Armando Benitez shared the Jim Palmer Prize as the Orioles' top minor-league pitcher.

Stephenson says he thought he deserved a shot with the Double-A Bowie Baysox after leading the system with 16 wins and pitching the organization's only no-hitter, for the Single-A Albany (Ga.) Polecats, but began the year with the Single-A Frederick Keys instead.

Then, 1 1/2 months after he was promoted to Bowie, Stephenson was shipped back to Frederick. He vented his anger against the Keys' opposition and by September he was back with the Baysox.

Now, the Maryland native is rolling with the punches and hoping for offensive help.

"All I wanted was the chance to prove myself," said Stephenson. "And I never got it. You're always disappointed when that happens."

Stephenson was born in Takoma Park. His Little League team was in Mount Airy, his Babe Ruth team in Frederick, his American Legion team in Williamsport and his high school teams in Boonsboro and Linganore, all Maryland communities.

He was drafted on the 18th round in 1992 and has been successful ever since. He has averaged nearly a strikeout an inning, and his .659 winning percentage entering this season was second only to Rick Krivda's .662 in the organization.

All he needs is some polishing to continue climbing the ladder.

"Garrett is still developing," said Bowie manager Bob Miscik. "He's done everything we've asked of him, but early, we just didn't get him any runs."

The Baysox are trying to get Stephenson to depend more on his fastball and less on a good curveball.

"We'd rather he not use the curve as an out pitch, but as a pitch to set up his others," Miscik said. "And we want him to pitch inside more. He has good command of his fastball and can throw it to both sides of the plate. The punch-outs [strikeouts] can come with that."

Stephenson has become more receptive to the lessons. He agrees that "maybe I do get curveball-happy. And I realize that the higher you go the more you have to rely on all your pitches."

Although he has impressive strikeout totals -- his 165 last year were second in the system to Jimmy Haynes' 191 -- Stephenson does not consider himself overpowering.

"I don't throw that slow . . . or that hard, either," he said. "Sometimes, I do try to strike out people, but the key is throwing the right pitch for the right situation."

He was the major victim of Bowie's sluggish start. During one four-game span, Stephenson had a 1.12 ERA, two losses and two no-decisions.

At that point, his record was 0-3 despite an overall 2.66 ERA, 20 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings and a .205 opposing batting average. Hard luck seemed to be tailing him.

"I've had a lot of it," he said. "But all you can do is give it your best. The win-loss record is really not that important. It is to show you're a winner, but it isn't if you pitch well."

The lead pitcher on the Bowie staff until Rick Forney returned from Rochester, Stephenson grew up in a large family in which everyone is competitive in athletics.

"That shows," Miscik said. "He's very competitive, particularly on the days he's pitching. You have to like that about him."



Name: Garrett Stephenson

Position: Pitcher

Team: Bowie Baysox, Double-A Eastern League

Parent organization: Orioles

Throws: Right

Age: 23

School: Boonsboro and Linganore high schools, Ricks (Idaho) College

Estimated arrival in majors: 1997


Pitches: Fastball, curveball, changeup

Working on: Pitching inside, throwing fastball as an out pitch


Jr. ... ... ... ... Team ... ... ... IP ... ... W-L ... ... ERA

1992 ... ... ... .. Bluefield ... .. 32 1/3 .. 3-1 ... ... 4.73

1993 ... ... ... .. Albany ... .. .. 171 1/3 .. .. 16-7 ... .. 2.84

1994 ... ... ... .. Frederick ... .. 107 1/3 .. .. 7-5 ... ... 4.02

... ... ... ... ... Bowie ... ... .. 36 2/3 .. 3-2 ... ... 5.15

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