Four years ago, Jay Spurgeon was struggling at the plate for the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His future as an outfielder was not looking promising, so he and his coaches "figured out that I should try the mound. I had a good arm, and I wanted to go pro."
That decision has changed his baseball life.
No one in the Orioles' farm system is hotter at the moment than the 6-foot-6, 228-pound right-hander, who is living testimony that hard work and dedication can reap dividends.
Spurgeon, who tied for the organization lead with 11 victories at Delmarva in 1998, has rebounded with a vengeance from a subpar season with Frederick last summer.
After being promoted to Double-A Bowie on his July 5 birthday, he has started four games, pitched 29 innings and allowed one earned run (0.31 ERA). Entering a weekend start, he was 2-0, including a complete-game shutout, for the Baysox, has garnered an Eastern League Pitcher of the Week award and is looking like the ace of a rotation that has been highly successful.
Moreover, he had a no-hitter for 8 1/3 innings in his final Frederick start before being lifted after 124 pitches.
So, what's the difference from the pitcher who permitted 176 hits in 146 innings, had an ERA near 5.00 and was raked for 14 home runs in 1999.
"He's placing his fastball a lot better and pitching in on hitters," said Andy Etchebarren, Spurgeon's manager the past two years. "He has gone seven scoreless innings without his good stuff, which means he's learned how to pitch. That's progress."
Moreover, Spurgeon's adherence to good work habits and physical conditioning have permitted him to weather the rough times.
"He deserves to pitch well," said Bowie pitching coach Dave Schmidt. "Working hard physically has allowed him to get to the top of his game mentally. He does not like to lose, and in tough situations, he can push himself because he's in such good shape."
As a former position player, Spurgeon is athletic and capable defensively. And because he can throw his changeup for strikes, batters cannot wait on his sinking fastball or sharp slider.
A California native (in the mountains north of Fresno), Spurgeon was drafted out of high school by the Houston Astros in the 27th round, but he did not sign because of the late choice and his desire to attend college.
That now appears to have been another good choice.
"This is a guy you can turn loose and you don't have to worry about him getting his work in," Etchebarren said. "The key to him now is that he has figured out ways to win the 15 to 20 times a season [when] you don't have your good stuff."
"The first year [at Bluefield], I really didn't take the conditioning seriously," Spurgeon said. "I didn't realize how much it meant. Then I started working hard, and I haven't missed a start in pro ball."
Karim Garcia is in the driver's seat for the International League home run title. He leads with 25, and his nearest two competitors have been promoted to the majors. His only home run crown was in 1994 with Vero Beach of the Florida State League. ... Injuries have beset the team: Javier de la Hoya, one of the team's mound fixtures, has experienced shoulder stiffness; Jerry Hairston suffered a mild hamstring pull; Wady Almonte is on the disabled list with a fibula injury; and Chad Paronto was hit on the pinky by a batted ball during his first Triple-A start. ... Rick Krivda leads the league with 11 wins, is 46-25 overall as a Red Wing and has a 15-5 lifetime record at Frontier Field. ... Jason Johnson (3-0, 1.13 ERA) has 14 scoreless innings against Buffalo, the best team at that level. ... Josh Towers started the season 5-0, but he is 2-5 with five no-decisions since May 18.
With little punch, the Baysox have dropped out of Eastern League playoff contention. They hit only three homers over a 19-game stretch and went 0-for-21 with runners in scoring position until Jayson Werth broke that streak. Since June 1, they are 17-35. ... Sean Douglass, the team's leading winner, won his first game since June 14 on Thursday after going 0-4 in six starts. In the four defeats, the offense provided him with four runs. ... Bowie lost pitcher Jeff Wilson to Rochester and Juan Guzman was activated, but he allowed six runs in 2 1/3 innings in his first outing back. Infielder Eddy Garabito also went to Rochester, and Bowie received promising shortstop Edwin Rogers from Delmarva. ... The Baysox play an unusual doubleheader tomorrow at Prince George's Stadium. They will be the visiting team in the opener against New Britain as a suspended game is made up.
The promotions of Brian Rust, Papy Ndungidi and Richard Paz - plus other call-ups - deprived the Keys of 52 percent of their season home run and RBI production, so they continue to struggle at the plate. Frederick went 3-10 over one span at home and remains last in the Carolina League's Northern Division. One hot hitter is Keith Reed, who batted .363 with 12 RBIs over an eight-game span and had his first four-hit game. ... Ryan Minor went 3-for-9 in his first-ever stint as a Key. All the hits were singles. He leapfrogged the Frederick stop on his climb through the Orioles' farm system. ... Franky Figueroa underwent an 0-for-25 slump, and Mike Lopez-Cao was 0-for-19.
The Shorebirds remain in solid contention for the South Atlantic League playoffs, trailing Piedmont slightly for the second-half title in the North Division and leading the wild-card race by four games. ... The team played its longest game, 19 innings, in a 4-3 loss to Piedmont last week. The time of 6-hour, 13-minute was also a record, and Jonathan Kessick and Doug Gredvig each tied a record by striking out five times. ... Willie Harris has dropped to third in the league in runs (83) but is second in triples (eight).
Tyler Renwick made his first start for the Suns after being promoted from the Queens Kings in the New York-Penn League. He was signed by the Blue Jays as a free agent in 1998. ... Marc Bluma has not allowed an earned run in his past 10 relief appearances, spanning 16 2/3 innings. He struck out 13 and allowed six hits. ... IF Brandon Jackson put together a six-game hitting streak .
A fireworks show helped the Arsenal draw 1,533, a first-year record, to cozy Thomas Run Park on July 22. The previous high was 1,158 on Opening Day. ... Aberdeen signed former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Jeff Ware, a 1991 first-round draft pick who has a 3-6 major-league record. Ware spent the past two seasons with the Atlantic City Surf in the Atlantic League. ... Johnny Isom cracked game-winning, three-run homers in consecutive contests after returning from a back injury. The groundbreaking date of July 15 for Ripken Stadium has passed without any action. A lack of response to purchase skyboxes and luxury suites by the business community is delaying construction. Aug. 15 is the new deadline from the contractor.