SAN DIEGO - When he took the mound on Friday night at Angel Stadium in the third inning, Orioles right-hander Tom Eshelman could hear some of his former college teammates loudly cheering him on from behind the Baltimore dugout.
This trip represents a homecoming for Eshelman who pitched Cal-State Fullerton, which is just a few miles from Anaheim. The trip continues the next two days in San Diego. Eshelman is from nearby Carlsbad, Calif., and is scheduled to pitch against his hometown team on Tuesday.
Friday, in front of about 30 to 35 members of family and friends, the 25-year-old Eshelman threw well. He allowed four hits and one run over 4 1/3 innings against the Angels in what turned about to be a 16-inning win.
“It was surreal,” Eshelman said about pitching in that game. “Being able to pitch in front of friends and family members and also ex-college teammates was pretty special for me. And it was a special game to be a part of too with us making history with Wilkie (Stevie Wilkerson) saving it.
“No nerves. I think it was more just wanted to get out there. First time coming out of ‘pen in a while for me. But was able to get settled down, mix speeds and keep them off balance.”
Southern California baseball is important to Eshelman, who got drafted by Houston in round two of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of Cal-State Fullerton. While there he set an NCAA record as a freshman in 2013, allowing just 0.23 walks per nine innings. For his career he walked 17 over 362 2/3 innings.
“Playing high school ball down here, the talent was really good. Lot of guys played in college and the pro ranks and a few in the big leagues. And collegiately, this area is top notch with some real smart coaches. I learned how to go about certain things then that carry into my game now. For it to come full circle and to play in front of my college and high school coaches was pretty cool,” he said of Friday’s game.
All this is happening while he still adjusting to his new organization. The Orioles acquired Eshelman from the Phillies June 10 for international bonus money. He made four starts at Triple-A Norfolk and is 0-2 with a 5.79 ERA for the Orioles in four games.
This is his first time in the majors and he’s pretty thankful to the Orioles for giving him the shot.
“It’s big time. Just really happy for the opportunity the Orioles gave me in trading for me and bringing me up. I understand what the opportunity is in front of me and want to keep showing the coaching staff I can pitch here,” he said.
At a time when Major League Baseball is loaded with pitchers with big velocity, Eshelman is at the other end of the spectrum. His four-seam fastball averages 85.3 mph.
“It’s one of those things where you understand who you are as a pitcher and try to go out and do what you do. Growing up watching guys like Greg Maddux and Kyle Hendricks pitch you learn a lot from guys. They have less room for error sometimes but more of an understanding what to throw as well. I try to be like those guys, have pinpoint control and mix speeds still even while throwing 85, 86,” he said.
On Tuesday, Eshelman’s homecoming gathers intensity when he pitches about 35 miles south of Carlsbad.
“That would be the complete full circle. Growing up in that city I went to quite a few Padres games. Saw Trevor Hoffman quite a few times. To pitch in the same stadium as him would be special for me,” said Eshelman.
On to San Diego: That stadium, Petco Park, is the site for the Orioles and Padres the next two games. When these teams met in Baltimore in late June, the Padres posted 8-3 and 10-5 wins. San Diego hit nine homers in the two games at Camden Yards, one by former Oriole Manny Machado, who went 3-for-8 in that series.
But San Diego (49-56) has been struggling. The Padres are just 4-11 since the All-Star break and have lost nine of their past 10 home games.
The Orioles (35-70) lost 5-4 in Anaheim Sunday as they failed to complete a four-game sweep of the Angels. But they did win three of four in that series, scoring 31 runs in the series. They have won four of six, seven of 11 and are 13-12 since June 28.
The Baltimore offense, which has scored 74 runs the past 11 games, gets a test tonight from rookie right-hander Chris Paddack (6-5, 2.84 ERA). Paddack has a 0.895 WHIP after 17 starts and is 2-1 with a 1.85 ERA his last four starts.