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UC Davis pleased with battery

There isn't much Eddie Gamboa doesn't throw. The former Merced High star has always been one to tinker with different pitches.

"Eddie would probably tell you he throws 10 pitches," joked UC Davis coach Rex Peters.

It's true -- the Aggies ace's repertoire of pitches reads like a $200 grocery receipt.

When Gamboa peers in for the sign, he may throw a fastball, curveball, two different change-ups, a cutter, a slider or a knuckleball.

Most catchers would need a cheat sheet to call a game with Gamboa on the mound.

Fortunately, former Buhach Colony catcher Jake Jefferies has been catching Gamboa since he was 15 years old.

With only five free fingers to work with, the two have their own special set of signs.

Still, after all these years, it's the knuckleball that makes Jefferies cringe.

"It's nasty," Jefferies said. "I catch it most of the time. He throws it maybe once or twice a game.

"If we get up 0-1 on somebody with nobody on base, I might call it. But I'm no Doug Mirabelli."

Gamboa does just fine without featuring the knuckleball too often.

The senior right-hander is 6-1 with a 2.22 ERA this season.

He was named the Big West Co-Pitcher of the Week after picking up a complete game victory in a 3-2 win over Cal Poly on Friday.

Jefferies has also shined.

The junior is third in the Big West in hitting with a .407 batting average and leads the conference with a whopping 47 RBIs in just 36 games.

The two Merced area products are a big reason UC Davis (25-13) has a shot at making the playoffs in its first season at the Division I level.

"It's something we're proud of," Jefferies said. "We're both from Merced.

"We grew up together. I played with Eddie when I was 15 and he was 18. I've caught a lot of his games."

Gamboa is enjoying every moment of this year.

And it's no wonder, when you consider that two years ago he wasn't throwing any pitches at all.

In January of 2006, Peters had just told Gamboa he would start the Aggies' first game of the season.

That same day, Gamboa injured his elbow during a throwing session in the bullpen.

Gamboa had injured his ulnar collateral ligament and missed the 2006 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in May.

"I had never even broken a bone," Gamboa said. "You go from playing every game at Merced High as a pitcher and shortstop. I played every inning of every game and then to not play at all...

"It was depressing watching the other guys do what I love to do."

Gamboa spent the next nine months rehabbing his elbow.

Last year, he came out of the bullpen for Davis, finishing with a 4-1 record and a 3.25 ERA.

He started the final game of the season and went the distance in a win over Washington State.

Gamboa then spent this past summer in Wisconsin playing with Jefferies in a wooden bat league where he went 5-1.

It was two years of hard work just to enjoy his senior season.

"When you rehab, you're on your own," said Gamboa, whose fastball is now up in the 88- to 92-mph range. "You think a lot.

"Sometimes you think about what you could have done different to prevent the injury.

"I'm back where I want to be after eight months of rehab, which was two to three hours per day stretching and strengthening my elbow.

"I'm back to competing. I want to be the guy everyone looks up to, the guy they count on to beat Fresno State and Cal Poly."

Peters never lost faith in his ace.

"It was just a matter of him having the confidence that his arm would hold up," he said. "We knew his stuff was good enough to throw on Friday nights and to be successful.

"His health was the only question."

There weren't many questions surrounding Jefferies.

The sweet-swinging left-hander came into the season with high expectations after hitting .302 with 34 RBIs last season.

He started this year hot and he hasn't cooled off.

Jefferies went 90 at-bats into the season before he finally struck out for the first time against Gonzaga.

"Everyone was talking about it and I knew it would get jinxed at some point," Jefferies said.

"When it did happen, I didn't know what to do. I think I just stood at home plate for awhile. I forgot what it left like.

"When I got back to the dugout, everyone started laughing."

Jefferies has struck out just four times in 162 at-bats.

"His numbers are very impressive," Peters said. "He leads the Big West in RBIs. He's in the top eight or 10 in batting average.

"He's had a phenomenal year. I know the scouts want him to hit for more power, but he's only 20 years old. He's going develop more power."

Jefferies has heard all sorts of draft projections.

"At times I've heard second through the fifth (rounds)," he said. "I've also heard I won't go before the fifth.

"I just try not to think about it. Obviously it's there. If somebody wants to take a chance on me, I'll play as hard as I can just like I am at UC Davis.

"But right now, I'm trying to help us get to the playoffs."

Gamboa's draft status is also just as murky.

"You hear a couple teams talking, but you never know," Gamboa said. "All I know is the draft is in the beginning of June.

"I'm trying not to get my hopes up. I'm just glad I'm back playing the game."

And happy for the chance to throw a couple more knuckleballs to his good friend.

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

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