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Road to Triple-A not easy for Bechler

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Steve Bechler's Triple-A debut will be etched in his memory forever.

In Myrtle Beach, S.C., with his Frederick teammates, Bechler "was just hanging out in the clubhouse ready to go to the airport" for the Single-A All-Star Game in California when the call came.

"They told me I was going up and I thought they meant Bowie," said Bechler, a third-round pick in the 1998 draft. "Then I heard the trainer talking about Toledo and I was shocked, in awe."

Toledo meant Bechler would be pitching for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings instead of the Carolina League All-Stars, but it also meant a traveler's nightmare.

Bechler had to return to Frederick on an all-night bus ride from South Carolina, dash to his apartment, then catch a noon flight for Toledo at BWI that included a stop in Pittsburgh.

"I couldn't sleep the whole night. I was real nervous," said the right-hander, who led Orioles farmhands with 137 strikeouts last season. "There was no time for anything. I got to the hotel in Toledo at 5 p.m., to the field at 6 and the game was at 7. I hadn't eaten anything but USAir pretzels. I told them I was going to give it my best, but not to expect too much."

The results were predictable. Bechler felt fatigued and dizzy and was reeling when Toledo rocked him for 11 runs in less than three innings.

"I thought if this was the way it was going to be the whole season, I was going to be intimidated," Bechler said. "But I talked to Etch [Red Wing manager Andy Etchebarren] and he understood what I had to go through. Five days later, he pitched me again."

In his second start against Columbus, Bechler survived two early home runs, pitched five innings and earned a 5-3 victory. He left the Red Wings the next day with a 1-1 record and 15.95 ERA.

"I knew I wasn't going to be with Rochester the rest of the season or going back to Frederick," Bechler said. "But I'm glad I got the chance to show what I could do at the highest level of the minors."

Now comfortably ensconced in the Bowie rotation, the native of Medford, Ore., is labeled "a bulldog-type guy" by Baysox pitching coach Tom Burgmeier. "He has done very well in his starts for us."

Just before the Double-A All-Star break, Bechler combined with closer Aaron Rakers on a two-hitter that ended a seven-game losing streak. He has a 3.24 ERA and is on pace for about 180 innings at three different stops. Durability is one of his strengths.

At Frederick, he was a major cog in the Carolina League's No. 1 staff during first-half play, going 5-2 with a 2.27 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 83 1/3 innings.

"It was unbelievable there," he said. "Every guy would go out and try to do better than the last one. We were definitely loaded with pitching and blowing everybody out of the water.

"The Orioles seem to have a lot of faith in their young pitchers, and I'm obviously one of them. That gives me a lot of determination. It means a lot when a team is starting to use its own players."

Triple-A Rochester

Nineteen pounds slimmer, Calvin Pickering remains on a tear for the revitalized Red Wings. Despite going 0-for-2 in the Triple-A All-Star Game, Pickering is batting .380 with four homers over a 13-game span and was the Orioles organization's Hitter of the Month for June. He leads the International League in RBIs. One drawback: 90 strikeouts in 307 at-bats. ... Ryan Kohlmeier's first professional start after 249 relief appearances was successful. He allowed one hit over four scoreless innings and could be targeted for another start. The current closer, Jorge Julio, is 8-for-10 in save situations. ... Rochester is creeping up on Pawtucket in a bid to escape the North Division basement. The Wings won four straight for the first time this season and went 11-6 over a 17-game span. One reason is an upsurge in power. After hitting only 22 homers in the first 55 games, they hit 35 in the next 36 games, including at least one in 11 straight games. ... With catcher Sean Mulligan (back) expected to come off the disabled list, a move will have to be made. Mulligan is hitting .337 in seven games and has the only homer by a catcher. ... Leslie Brea has an 0.64 ERA in his past 14 innings. ... No decision has been made on whether Jay Spurgeon (3-5, 4.55 ERA) will need surgery for his dislocated shoulder. ... Rick Bauer was International League Pitcher of the Week and the Orioles organization's Pitcher of the Month for June.

Double-A Bowie

The Bechler-Rakers gem prevented the Baysox from falling into last place in the Eastern League's Southern Division, but the team started the second half with 19 losses in 26 games since it was .500 on June 1. The team batting average during the slump was .229. ... Rakers is rolling. He has posted an 0.63 ERA over 28 2/3 innings, dropping his ERA to 1.33. ... The real Crash Davis, central figure in the movie Bull Durham, will appear at Prince George's Stadium on Wednesday evening. ... Willie Harris is tied for second on the team's single-season steals list with 33. ... Scott Eibey tied the franchise record with his 112th pitching appearance. ... No. 1 draft pick Beau Hale is gradually returning to action after missing five weeks. He has started twice, going two and 3 2/3 innings. ... Larry Bigbie changed his Baysox uniform number from 24 to 3, which he wore with the Orioles. It is the number of Harold Baines, his boyhood hero. ... Two pitchers have joined the staff, Rafael Pina and Steve Falteisek. Both have previous ties to manager Dave Machemer. ... Right-hander John Stephens pitched a scoreless inning in the Double-A All-Star Game at Round Rock, Texas.

Single-A Frederick

The Keys ranked 42nd among all minor-league teams and 12th among Single-A teams in average attendance through July 1 , according to Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal. Frederick experienced record single-game crowds in April, May and July. The Keys are averaging 4,459 per date. ... Napolean Calzado pieced together an 11-game batting streak (.354) to rise to fifth in the Carolina League in hitting. He is also third in steals with 21. ... Doug Gredvig hit .414 over a nine-game span. He tops the league in home runs, extra-base hits and slugging percentage. ... Catcher Octavio Martinez has thrown out 46 of 79 potential base-stealers for a phenomenal .582 percentage. Backup Charles Alley is almost as efficient with 16 of 34 (.471). ... Sonny Garcia went 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA over three starts after losing four in a row. ... Keith Reed underwent a seven-game slump (.160) after a 12-game high (.388).

Single-A Delmarva

The Shorebirds, improbable league champions as a wild card last season, are at it again. They had a season-high five-game winning streak and are on the heels of Northern Division leader Greensboro. ... Rick Elder had his second two-homer game of the season at Augusta, Ga., with the blasts traveling a combined 830 feet. In a five-game stretch, Elder batted .444 with three homers, seven RBIs and five runs scored. ... B. J. Littleton, a seventh-round pick in 2000, broke Harris' franchise record with his 11th triple, tops in the South Atlantic League. He also leads the team in hits and steals. ... Sendy Rleal did not figure in the decision in his last start and has not lost since June 16.

Jim Mandelero contributed to this article.

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