Right-hander Eddie Gamboa has pitched well enough the last few seasons for Double-A Bowie to keep his spot on the staff, but never quite well enough to get a promotion or to be considered one of the club’s top pitching prospects.
Gamboa is back at Bowie again this season. But armed with a new pitch and now producing strong results, Gamboa is finally getting noticed.
Now his dream of someday making it with the Orioles doesn’t seem like the real long shot it once did.
The Orioles discovered Gamboa could throw a decent knuckleball during spring training and he’s been working on it and improving the pitch with the Baysox this season. He’s thrown it every start and has had the chance to work with Hall of Fame knuckleball pitcher Phil Niekro. Recent results indicate he’s doing quite well with that pitch.
Gamboa threw a seven-inning no-hitter Sunday against Harrisburg and that followed an outing when the 28-year-old right-hander gave up just one hit. That is 14 1/3 scoreless innings his last two starts, allowing one hit in 43 at-bats to opposing hitters.
Over his last four starts, Gamboa is 3-1 with a 1.27 ERA and a .100 batting average against, allowing just nine hits in 28 1/3 innings.
Yes, that is pretty good.
“I’ve been in Double-A for four or five years, so having some positive things come along and having the hard work paying off is the biggest thing for me right now and I’m very excited about it,” Gamboa said Monday during a phone interview.
He hasn’t been throwing only the knuckler but using it about 50 to 60 percent of the time although he estimated he threw the pitch 75 percent of the time during Sunday’s no-hitter.
He’s committed to developing the pitch and the Orioles are backing him.
“The organization is very supportive and they believe in me, and you can’t really ask more than that,” he said.
Gamboa, who is 4-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 15 starts over 93 innings on the year, said he can throw the knuckler at a couple of different velocities.
“I would say anywhere from 65 to 80 (mph),” he said. “I’m probably more comfortable around the mid-70s range. It is probably where I am more consistent. I slow it down to the change the views for the hitter, and speed it up to have them react late to it and hope for a swing and a miss.
“It is like having three different pitches, even though it’s the same pitch because I can add and subtract. It’s fun when things are going great, but I get gray hairs with it sometimes. But you just have to ride it out. It’s not an easy thing to do and I am starting to realize why there are very few people that have been able to do this.”
Looking to the future, Gamboa is not sure if he’ll throw only a knuckleball or if the pitch will be just one of the pitches that he can use.
“That is something I still have to figure out,” he said. “It’s one of the things where the more comfortable I feel with this knuckleball, if I could throw every one for a strike, I don’t see a reason to throw any other pitch.
“The reason R.A.(Dickey) is in the big leagues and I’m not is he can control it, command it and have it move several ways. I have an idea with it, but sometimes it has a mind of its own.”
An O’s 21st-round draft pick out of Cal-Davis in 2008, Gamboa is in his sixth season in the organization. He cannot be a minor league free agent until after the 2014 season, but he will be eligible to be taken again this December in the Rule 5 draft.
This time the O’s could risk losing him if they don’t add him to their 40-man roster after this season.
He has to be catching the attention of the O’s brass with his recent outings.
“That is out of my control,” Gamboa said. “I just can compete, do my best and leave it all on the field. I don’t know what the Orioles think about this. Hopefully, they like it. But it is something to prolong my career. I love this game so much, I’d do anything to be around it as much as I can. This knuckleball has opened new doors for me.”