For Orioles pitching prospect Chorye Spoone, the long road back from shoulder surgery in September 2008 has just about reached its end.
Some fans were worried when he walked eight in just 3 2/3 innings in his last start at Bowie last Aug. 19. But he was simply out of gas, but not hurt again, after throwing 132 innings in 2010 at Double-A.
That is not a lot until you remember, he had pitched just 71 innings combined in 2008 and 2009, before and after his surgery.
But Spoone, once one of the club's top pitching prospects, had a solid year for the Baysox, going 7-6 with an ERA of 4.02 and 1.72 ground ball to fly ball ratio. He was second on the Bowie team in innings and wins and tied for 12th in the Eastern League in ERA.
"There were a lot of different opinions on how my season went and some said 'he is not the prospect he was before.' The way I look at it is, I came off surgery and it was my first full season back. Having 135 innings coming off surgery was a lot," Spoone, an eighth-round pick in 2005, said.
"There were times in the beginning where my shoulder didn't feel right. I couldn't find my release point and it was hit or miss. Even from start-to-start and sometimes inning-to-inning. Around the middle of May and most of June and July, I was feeling really good.
"After I hit the 120 inning mark, my arm got tired and just went. It was tough to even pick up the ball just to throw it. It wasn't painful, I just didn't have anything left. They decided to shut me down, but I showed my velocity came back, my sinker was there and curve was good," he said.
Spoone had an ERA of 3.70 until he tired late and it rose to 4.02 over his last four Baysox starts.
"There were starts where all my stuff was sharp. I could not see much difference and the catchers said that. At times it seemed like I was back like in '07 but other times, yeah, it wasn't right and I got in trouble.
"I would say, the way my shoulder is feeling now and the way my offseason throwing program went, some will look at me and say, 'he'll never be the way he was in '07.'
"But I feel I am back as close as I can get to that and all I can do is get stronger. I feel like my stuff will be there this year as good as it ever has been," Spoone added.
Spoone is referring to that 2007 season because he was one of the best pitchers on a Single-A Frederick Keys team that won the Carolina League championship where he was named MVP in the finals. He was a top pitcher in a rotation that included David Hernandez, Brandon Erbe, Jason Berken and Brad Bergesen.
In fact, while Hernandez was 7-11 with a 4.95 ERA and Bergesen went 3-6, with a 5.75 ERA then for the Keys, Spoone was that club's best starter, going 10-9 with a 3.26 ERA.
Minus his injury and surgery, Spoone would have likely been at Triple-A by 2009 and in the majors last year. In 2007, he was right there, pitching as well as guys like Hernandez and Bergesen that are now in the big leagues.
"I use that a lot as an example that I know I can pitch up there. I had just as much success as they did. Why can't I do it up there, my stuff is good enough? You just want the opportunity and that is what everyone hopes for."
Spoone has an excellent sinking fastball that usually sits in the 92, 93 range. He also throws a curve and slider and has improved his change-up, which was very effective against lefty hitters last summer. He was happy with how his velocity returned in 2010 at Bowie.
"There were days when I was 88, 90 early on. There were days when it got warm that I was 90, 94 and even hit 95 a couple of times. And then there would be days I sat 91 to 93. There were days it felt like 96, 97 because it was coming out so easy. My velocity got better as the season went on," he said.
Spoone should get credit for all the hard work and rehab he put in during his long road back. It has been demanding. At the same time he knows some have forgotten about him and were convinced he could not overcome his injury to again reach top prospect status.
"They threw everything at me, everything but the kitchen sink and I'm still here. I am not going to stop until someone tells me I can't play anymore and this is going to be an exciting year.
"It's funny in that your parents and wife and brother read what other people say. I had 78 walks at Bowie, but look at my hits given up and my overall ERA with those walks. The ERA was in the threes and low fours. I tell my parents don't worry what others are saying about me (on the internet).
"When I had the surgery, my mom had to read it when people said 'he's done, he'll never play in the majors.'"
Spoone remains on the Orioles 40-man roster and is in Sarasota now at his third O's spring camp. Last year put him back on the radar.
While the surgery put him behind some of the pitchers he was coming up with through the minors, now he is out to prove that once again, talent-wise, he can be right there with that group again.
Coming soon: More with Spoone, who talks about his high walks total and the advice he has for Brandon Erbe who is now coming back from a similar surgery.
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