The comeback trail: Matt Hobgood works his way back at Aberdeen

As he continues his comeback from a strained rotator cuff, Matt Hobgood has had some ups and downs along the way.

When he took the mound at short-season Single-A Aberdeen last night, he did so coming off back-to-back starts where he gave up a whopping 15 runs over 4 1/3 innings.

But Sunday night, against Hudson Valley, Hobgood had his best Aberdeen outing. He retired the first six batters on just 22 pitches and gave up one run over four-plus innings, and perhaps, at least for one night, quieted some of his critics.

“He was very controlled, more relaxed and had good command,” Aberdeen manager Leo Gomez said. “When you throw strikes, something good will happen. Every time he has pitched, he’s looked better.”

Hobgood was pitching between 88 and 90 with his fastball velocity, touching 91 and 92 on a couple of pitches. He gave up just one run and three hits with two walks and two strikeouts. He threw 63 pitches with 37 strikes. He left after walking two batters to start the fifth, but Ryan Berry came on and got out of that jam.

Expected to pitch just four innings, he was efficient enough with his pitches that he came back out for that top of the fifth.

“I just wanted to go out and try and repeat my delivery,” Hobgood said in the IronBirds clubhouse. “I felt very in control of myself. I felt really good, a good outing. My arm feels good. I was peeking a little bit up there to see what I was throwing (with my velocity).

“I wasn’t tired (in the fifth). I pride myself on finishing better than I start. Just threw a few sinkers down that missed. Little disappointed in that, but glad my pitch count was down so they sent me out for the fifth.”

The Orioles first-round pick in 2009, Hobgood entered this outing with an ERA of 13.86 in four Aberdeen starts, but felt he had been slowly starting to make some progress.

“I think every start, even if it maybe has not been statistically good, I am slowly getting my feel back for pitches,” Hobgood said. “I threw a couple of first-pitch curveballs tonight for strikes. You need to throw your other pitches to help make your fastball that much better and I think I took a step forward with that tonight.”

Orioles officials have indicated they just need to get Hobgood fully healthy and ready to pitch a full season in 2012.

“Shoulder feels strong,” he said. “I know the velocity is not quite there yet. I’d like to be in the 92-94 range, but I think that will end up coming sometime next year. I haven’t had any pain since I’ve been here and my arm feels great. I am doing long toss still, and incorporating that back in has helped get my arm strong.”

He said he has one simple goal for the rest of this season and a bigger one in looking toward the winter.

“Finish healthy,” Hobgood said. “That’s about it. I don’t want a certain ERA, just finish August and September healthy. One of my offseason goals physically is to get under 240 or around 240 (pounds). I was around 240 to 245 in high school and I know that has been speculated (about) since I was drafted.”

For a kid that just turned 21 last Wednesday, it seems Hobgood has been through a lot. The shoulder injury has set him back and he knows fan criticism has been mounting of his selection as a first-round pick.

“Everybody gets stuff said about them,” Hobgood said. “You control how you react to things and I think I’ve done a good job of that. I hear what is being said and I remember it and I’ll be sure to use it as motivation when I am running this offseason, thinking about everyone that has doubted me or written me off already. It will be that much more satisfying to come back and put it to everybody.”

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