What a difference a year makes.
Eddie Gamboa was 1-7 with a 3.63 ERA in 12 starts for Rookie-level Bluefield in 2008 but has thrived after moving to the bullpen this season.
The 24-year-old right-hander, who was promoted to Double-A Bowie on Aug. 17, is 10-0 with a 1.20 ERA in 34 total appearances at three levels - Single-A Delmarva, Single-A Frederick and Bowie - in 2009.
"You just have to be ready to come in and throw strikes right off the bat. I think that's one of my strengths as a pitcher," Gamboa said. "I can come in and locate three different pitches for strikes, whether I see the hitters once or twice. It really just changes how you approach it."
Gamboa wasn't sure whether he was going to make the roster of one of the Orioles' full-season affiliates before spring training, but he has kept his immaculate 2009 campaign going by using the three pitches - two-seam fastball, cutter and changeup - that caught the attention of the organization in March.
"I didn't want to be a 24-year-old stuck in extended [spring training]. I don't think I was one of the guys going to Delmarva until I was able to show something in spring training," Gamboa said. "Whatever got me to Delmarva, I stayed with it and it got me to Frederick and now to Bowie."
Gamboa, selected by the Orioles in the 21st round of the 2008 amateur draft out of UC Davis, was 6-0 with a 1.86 ERA in 18 appearances for Delmarva before being called up to Frederick in late June. He won four games and only allowed three runs (two earned) in 33 innings with the Keys before heading to Bowie.
Keys pitching coach Kennie Steenstra cites Gamboa's hard work and character as the main factors that led to his emergence from virtual anonymity to a perfect record this season.
"He came up to us, threw lots of strikes and kept the ball down in the zone," Steenstra said. "Honestly, he flew under my radar a little bit. I didn't really know much about him coming out of spring training. He had some success at Delmarva. He was brought up and continued that success [in Frederick], so it's good to see."
Gamboa's ability to make adjustments has helped him transition to a relief role, according to Orioles director of player development David Stockstill.
"The two big things are command of his pitches and deception," Stockstill said. "His deception is outstanding, the way he changes speeds and the command of the pitches when getting ahead of hitters."
Gamboa plans to continue to improve this offseason.
"I want to hopefully get a little bigger, stronger, more flexible and come back with a little more [velocity] on my ball," Gamboa said. "I want to try to become a true prospect here. ... If I can make myself more of a powerful guy with command, I think I'm going to give myself some good opportunities going forward."
While Gamboa turned a lot of heads this season, he needs to rely on his strengths as he climbs the ladder in the organization, Steenstra said.
"He has a chance to make it. It's hard to teach a guy command and control, and that's something he already has," Steenstra said. "Hopefully he can continue to hone those skills a little bit and keep moving up the chain."
Bowie bits: : Third baseman Josh Bell is batting .317 with five home runs and 12 RBIs in 17 games with Bowie. Right-hander Steve Johnson is 0-2 with a 3.10 ERA in four starts since joining the Baysox. Both were acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the George Sherrill trade. ... With two weeks remaining in the season, the Baysox (64-62) are 2 1/2 games behind Reading for the final playoff spot in the Eastern League Southern Division.