SARASOTA, Fla. - Pitcher Eddie Gamboa turned 30 in December. That is an age where some players that have never reached the big leagues probably know it will never happen.
But for Gamboa, the dream of pitching in the majors may now be closer for him than ever. He just finished a strong stint in big league camp for the Orioles. In five games, he pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing just one hit with six strikeouts.
It was about this time last year when Gamboa reinvented himself as a pitcher. He began throwing a knuckleball and he is clearly showing signs of progress with the pitch.
In an interview at minor league camp yesterday, Gamboa reflected on his time this spring with the Orioles.
"It was a great accomplishment for me to be invited to big league camp," Gamboa said. "It's difficult to get in there. For them to have confidence in me and give me the chance to play with them and compete with the big guys was truly an honor."
The O's 21st-round draft pick in 2008, Gamboa went 4-6 with a 3.64 ERA over 16 starts at Double-A in 2013, using the knuckler about 50 percent of the time. But then he began throwing the pitch about 90 percent of the time with Triple-A Norfolk and he ended the year going 2-5 with a 6.23 ERA over nine starts.
Gamboa has found he can get outs using the pitch about half the time. It is a major pitch for him but his conventional pitches still factor in. The pitch mix is working now. Why mess with success?
"It has worked out," he said. "Using conventional pitches and mixing the knuckleball in, I feel like I can compete and give us a chance to win every time out. It gave me a chance to show my repertoire of pitches at big league camp.
"It is different. I'm trying to be what they want me to be. I guess it's kind of a new thing. But who is to say you can't do it? I want to throw it as much as I can because the organization has my back. I want to do everything possible to give them the pitcher they want at the big league level."
Gamboa has worked on the knuckler with Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, who has been in minor league camp the last few days. When he left big league camp, Gamboa did so after first getting encouraging words from Buck Showalter.
"He was very positive. Very lucky to get feedback from him. He wants me to throw the knuckler more and more. I will try to do that and help the organization as best I can," he said.
After pitching in 164 O's minor league games, Gamboa knows the ballparks in this organization quite well, especially Prince George's Stadium in Bowie. He's played for the Baysox for at least parts of the last five seasons. With a lot of candidates for the Triple-A rotation, he may be pushed back to Bowie again to start the 2014 season. If that is the case, he'll just grab his glove and go to work.
"I know the O's have my best interests in mind so wherever that may be, I just want to pitch and work on my craft," Gamboa said.
Gamboa made a solid impression at big league camp. This could be the year he finally gets a big league chance.
"You only get one chance at a first impression," he said of his time at major league camp. "I gave it my best. Hopefully they liked what I brought to the table and what I'm capable of bringing in the future. The knuckleball has gotten me where I am today and I will do all I can to perfect it."