- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2007

Jim Hoey hasn’t always been able to throw a baseball 100 mph.

Not when he was a starting pitcher in high school in Trenton, N.J. Not when he was the closer at Rider for two seasons before moving into the starting rotation his junior year and becoming a 13th-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in the 2003 draft.

He wasn’t throwing that hard for short-season Class A Aberdeen in 2004 when he blew out his elbow and was forced to have Tommy John ligament replacement surgery or while he was rehabbing in 2005. It wasn’t until Hoey started to prepare for last season that he realized there suddenly was some extra life on his fastball.

“It was last year at spring training when I was just like, ‘You know what, I can hit my spots and still throw as hard as I can.’ I was like, ‘Well, this is nice.’ ” Hoey said. “I got physically stronger, and I was working at a lot of winter camps. Just throwing with a kid and showing him the right mechanics; it kind of gets you in that groove and that muscle memory, that’s how you’ve got to go. Your arm just naturally goes to that slot, and you don’t have to think about it on the mound.”

Hoey doesn’t touch triple digits consistently, but the radar gun at Prince George’s Stadium did flash 100 six times during one of his appearances for Class AA Bowie last summer. He does throw in the upper-90s with regularity.

Combine that with a hard slider and change-up that is also relatively new to his arsenal and Hoey has become Baltimore’s top relief prospect and one of its best regardless of position.

“He’s a special kid,” Bowie pitching coach Scott McGregor said. “He has a good work ethic, and he figures it out. The good ones figure it out themselves. You give them a ball and show them that little white thing out there and tell them, ‘Go get ‘em,’ and they figure it out. He is one of those.”

After never pitching for a full-season squad before last season, the 6-foot-6 right-hander rocketed through the Orioles system. He started the year at low Class A Delmarva before being promoted to high Class A Frederick and then to Bowie before making his major league debut Aug. 23.

He compiled a 2.28 ERA and struck out 73 minor league batters (while walking only 18) in 511/3 innings. The big league results weren’t so good (a 10.24 ERA in 92/3 innings), and he missed the last couple of weeks of the season because of shoulder soreness. Still, it was quite a rise for someone who threw a combined 212/3 innings the two previous seasons.

“Last year was a big surprise,” Hoey said. “My first goal was just to make Delmarva. Just to make a full-season team — that was my first time. My ultimate goal by the end of the year was just maybe make it to Bowie. At the beginning of the year I was hoping for maybe a month with Bowie, and then everything changed.”

This year Hoey has been borderline unhittable. The Orioles sent him back to Bowie to consolidate his development (particularly the change-up), and he has thrown 152/3 scoreless innings with 24 strikeouts, three walks and 11 hits allowed. He has 11 saves and 16 appearances.

Hoey earned a spot on the 40-man roster last year and an invitation to spring training with the parent club. When the Orioles made several free agent additions to the bullpen, it didn’t give Hoey much of a chance to make the team in Florida. But given the recent struggles of Baltimore’s bullpen, it might not be long before he returns to the majors.

“There’s only so much you can do, and I’m having fun,” Hoey said. “When my time comes it will come. I am not in any hurry.”

Notes — Shortstop Bill Rowell, Baltimore’s 2006 first-round pick, made his season debut Wednesday night for Delmarva and went 1-for-4 with two RBI. He missed the first seven weeks of the season with a strained oblique muscle. …

Another of the organization’s top position prospects, outfielder Nolan Reimold, is dealing with the same injury. He went on the disabled list April 27 and returned May 9 for two games before aggravating it. He is hitting .329 with three home runs in 70 at-bats for Bowie.

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