Nowicki's star on the rise

The Baltimore Sun

Right fielder Joe Nowicki of the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds said he started hitting line drives when he was 5 years old and hasn't stopped.

Nowicki, 25, believes he was given a natural talent to hit a baseball, but there are perplexing occasions when that ability is hampered by an inability to "see the ball well."

Nowicki has often pondered what causes those stretches in which it is nearly impossible to pick up the ball, and he hasn't found any answers.

"If I knew that, I wouldn't be here [in the minors]," the Milwaukee native said.

Nowicki had no problem seeing the ball during a 10-game run from May 23 to June 3 when he solidified his place on the South Atlantic League North All-Star team.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound player, who bats and throws left-handed, hit .405, had 17 hits, three home runs, 13 RBIs, three doubles and scored seven runs in those 10 games.

In that stretch, he raised his average to .312, but he has cooled off to .301 this season, with a team-leading 10 home runs, 39 RBIs (a close second on the team), 21 doubles and three triples.

While his numbers at the plate have been impressive, Nowicki is working hard to cut down on his strikeout total of 58 in 65 games.

Fewer strikeouts and improved defensive play are the primary concerns in his third season in the Orioles organization.

"I think I need more at-bats to reduce the strikeouts," Nowicki said. "And I need to be more consistent defensively. I'm not the fastest guy, but I find a way to get to balls up the alleys."

Nowicki signed as a free agent with the Orioles in 2006 after his senior season at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he hit .367 his final two seasons.

There were stops at short-season Bluefield two years ago and short-season Aberdeen last summer.

At Aberdeen, he hit .283 in 69 games and was selected to the New York-Penn League All-Star team. Nowicki also played in one game at high Single-A Frederick and went 2-for-3 with a walk.

There were other Aberdeen highlights last season for Nowicki, such as seeing Cal Ripken Jr., around the ballpark and playing a game with the IronBirds at Cooperstown the day before Ripken was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Triple-A Norfolk

Less than a month after moving into the Tides' starting rotation, right-hander Andy Mitchell was named the International League Pitcher of the Week.

Mitchell, 29, was chosen for the week ending June 8 after he was the only pitcher in the league to win two starts without allowing a run.

Mitchell limited the league's winningest team, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, to two hits in six innings, struck out two and walked four in a 4-0 victory. Five days later he pitched six scoreless innings, walking none and striking out four, in a victory over the Richmond Braves.

Mitchell is 6-3 with a 4.45 ERA in 18 games with the Tides, including seven starts.

Double-A Bowie

Baysox left fielder Lou Montanez has easily been the team's hottest hitter over the past 10 days, and he has taken over the team lead in batting average at .303 and RBIs with 46.

Montanez, 26, is also threatening to grab the home run lead, hitting three last week to give him 12 this season, two behind Jeff Nettles, who has been leading all season.

Meanwhile, Baysox pitcher Chorye Spoone (CCBC-Catonsville) on Wednesday made his first start since April 20, when he left the game with shoulder pain. He pitched five innings in a 3-2 loss to Reading, giving up one earned run on two hits, walking three and striking out two.

Spoone is 2-1 with a 4.03 ERA in 22 1/3 innings.

Single-A Frederick

The slumping Keys have been looking for a dominant pitching performance for the past few weeks, and they received it from right-hander Brandon Erbe (McDonogh) in a 3-1 victory over the Wilmington Blue Rocks on Wednesday night.

Erbe, 20, no-hit the Blue Rocks for seven innings but allowed one earned run before being taken out of the game after seven innings. Erbe is 5-5 with 68 strikeouts, 19 walks and a 4.65 ERA in 14 starts this season.

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