Matt Hobgood pitching well out of bullpen, will stay there for now

The last two seasons, right-hander Matt Hobgood, the Orioles' 2009 first-round pick (fifth overall), went 0-6 with an 8.76 ERA over 37 innings.

This season with Single-A Delmarva, the 22-year-old Hobgood is 3-0 with an ERA of 0.90 over 20 innings, allowing just nine hits on two runs with 10 walks and 13 strikeouts. South Atlantic League hitters are batting just .136 against him.

Hobgood underwent season-ending shoulder surgery last April 2 and now, just over a year later, he may be in the early stages of both jump-starting a previously stalled career and getting his fastball back.

So far, the Orioles like what they see and they've used Hobgood in a bullpen role with the Shorebirds. Even though he has gone three and 4 1/3 innings over his last two outings, the plan for now is to keep Hobgood pitching out of the bullpen.

"The reason Matt Hobgood's velocity is where it is and the amount of success he's having is partially because of the role he is in," said Orioles director of player development Brian Graham. "It's a good role for him pitching out of the bullpen and valuable bullpen guys are able to go three or four innings."

Will Hobgood stay in the bullpen through the rest of this season?

"The plan is, for the time being, he's a bullpen guy and it looks like he is settling into a nice role. There are no current plans to start him," Graham said. "The stats are good and the velocity has come back to a very respectable point. He's been 89 to 93 (mph).

"The fastball command is also getting better. He understands that he needs to be more of a pitcher. When he was younger, he was able to beat hitters with velocity, now he understands he has to command the ball, change speeds and throw his curve for a strike."

It doesn't seem that the Orioles can pile too many innings on that right arm this season after Hobgood didn't pitch at all in 2012 and went a total of 37 innings in 2011.

"Probably we will err on the side of caution," Graham said. "As long as he is strong and throwing the ball well, there is not an enormous concern and we won't project a number right now."

Hobgood could throw his fastball in the mid-90s when the Orioles drafted him out of Norco (Calif.) High School, but he never showed that kind of velocity as a pro and has been hurt most of his O's career.

But now he has pitched often at 91 and 92 mph and has touched 93. His fastball is making a return and maybe it will make a bigger return before this year is out.

"There is no way to anticipate or tell if there will be more (velocity) in there," Graham said. "We'd love to see more, but if you can command the baseball at 93, you can pitch in the big leagues.

"He's made very good progress and Matt has worked extremely hard over the past two years to get to the point he is now. There has been a very good maturing process with him."

After almost two full years with little progress for Hobgood due to his shoulder injury, will the Orioles now possibly look to move him to Single-A Frederick soon to start to speed up the process now?

"The most important thing is for him to pitch and make it through the season healthy," Graham said. "We haven't ruled out anything to this point, but whether he stays at Delmarva or goes to a higher level, he just needs to pitch."

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