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Gamboa hitting his stride

Submitted photo Eddie Gamboa
Submitted photo Eddie Gamboa Merced Sun-Star

Nervous. Worried. Scared.

These words only begin to describe how Eddie Gamboa felt when he arrived in Sarasota, Fla. for spring training in March.

It was Gamboa's first spring training after being drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 21st round out of UC Davis last year.

First spring training or not, Gamboa felt his baseball caeer was already on the line.

"There was a big question mark heading into spring training," Gamboa said. "I was worried. I couldn't be a 24-year old guy staying behind at extended spring training.

"It was basically make the team and keep playing baseball or don't."

The team Gamboa wanted to make was the Orioles' Single-A affiliate Delmarva Shorebirds.

There were 40 pitchers trying to earn one of 13 spots.

"The pressure was on every day during spring training," Gamboa said. "It was my first spring training. I didn't know anybody. Most guys knew where they were going. I was the new guy coming in.

"There were taller guys. There were stronger guys. I had to find a way to stand out and I only got to pitch about 10 innings.

"I couldn't have a bad outing in those 10 innings. And in those 10 innings, the head guys probably only watch you for three of those innings.

"Everybody has bad outings. I just couldn't have a bad outing in spring training."

Gamboa didn't.

He found a way to stand out by giving up just one or two hits in his 10 innings of work.

He struck out nine batters and walked just one.

Gamboa made the team.

However, his stay in Delmarva wasn't long. The right-hander went 6-0 with a 1.86 ERA out of the bullpen.

He struck out 35 and walked just three batters in 38 and 2/3 innings pitched before he was promoted to High Class-A Frederick, MD.

Gamboa is still shining.

He hasn't given up a run in eight innings.

"I'm really proud of Eddie and the year he is having," said former Buach Colony catcher Jake Jefferies, who played with Gamboa at U.C. Davis before signing with Tampa Bay last year.

"He started out this year in the same league as me. He went 6-0 with a 1.80 ERA and now he's in High-A.

"That's the Eddie we all know and he's finally getting the spotlight. It's not a big surprise to me."

Gamboa and Jefferies are two of eight players currently in the minor leagues with local ties.

They grew up playing with many of them. Players like Doug Fister, Thomas Eager and Curtis Partch.

"I talk to most of them," Gamboa said. "I talked to Jefferies (Tuesday night). I talk to Eager every couple weeks.

"I keep tabs on everybody and check up on them. We had a lot of great ballplayers come out of Merced.

"We all want to be like Brian Fuentes and make it out of Merced. It's a childhood dream. We're trying to follow in his footsteps."

Gamboa feels his best way to make it is out of the bullpen.

He became a reliever this year after being a starting pitcher his whole life.

He was the ace on Merced High's 2002 Sac-Joaquin Section championship team.

He was the No. 1 starter at U.C. Davis.

And now it appears the transition to the bullpen has been a smooth one.

"As a starter you have to have four quality pitches and maintain it," Gamboa said. "I don't know if I could do that. Relieving is the best thing for me.

"I can come in and throw strikes. I take pride in that. I want to throw strikes and let them put the ball in play.

"I rely a lot on my offspeed pitches. As a starter, the first time through I could use mostly fastballs, and then the next time through the order use my offspeed.

"As a reliever, the hitters are only going to see me once or twice, so I can give them my best stuff.

"You go out get six or nine outs and you're job is done. You can go all out. As a starter, you have to touch and feel your way through a game."

Gamboa had six or seven different pitches in his arsenal during high school. He even liked to fool around with a knuckleball.

He's cut it down to four pitches now, using a fastball, cutter, changeup and slider.

He's saving the knuckleball.

"I still have the knuckleball if I need it," he said. "That's my last resort. When they say, 'Eddie, you can't pitch anymore,' I'll go throw a knuckleball in the bullpen to try to stick around before they get rid of me."

It appears Gamboa doesn't have to worry about that anytime soon.

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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