Inconsistent Command

Nick Adenhart's education continues in Salt Lake

SALT LAKE—Nick Adenhart, loaded with buckets of promise and expectation, is a winner. The Salt Lake righthander has always won, often dominated, on every level.

Yet, even Adenhart, so used to success, was overwhelmed by his first major league experience with the Angels.

Nick Adenhart
With the weight of Angels Stadium and nearly 40,000 fans on every pitch, Adenhart lasted just two innings. He allowed three hits and walked five.

"I started aiming the ball," he said.

Afterward, in the dugout, following a quick word by Angels manager Mike Scioscia, Adenhart flung his glove on the bench and sat, staring out toward the mound, a place where he had always been in control.

"We always say the third tier in the deck will get you every time," said Angels righthander and former Salt Lake Bee Jered Weaver afterward. "It's not 2,000 people anymore.

Yet, Adenhart didn't lose, as the Angels eventually rallied. After three starts, the 21-year-old returned to Salt Lake with a 1-0 record in the big leagues, albeit with a 9.00 ERA.

"I wasn't happy," Adenhart said of his performance. "It happened all too quickly. I just need to refine my tools, polish up the routine, go every fifth day and compete."

The next time Adenhart pitches for Los Angeles—and he will, whether this year or next—he will expect success. However, there are two trends Adenhart must reverse: too many walks issued and too few strikeouts recorded.

In 12 innings over three big league starts, Adenhart walked 13 batters and struck out just four. The day the slender 6-foot-3, 185-pound Maryland native swaps that ratio will be the moment he becomes a consistent winner for the Angels. He expects to, as do the Angels.

"His stuff plays here," Scioscia said following Adenhart's third start and first major league victory. "It was good for him to get some experience here.

"This guy is going to be a good pitcher and he is ready for the challenge."

Adenhart was better in his final start for the Angels, allowing four runs in 5 2/3 innings. It was a performance to build on.

"I know what I need to work on," he said. "(Scioscia) said I made some strides over the three starts. Just to hear him (say that) was reassuring."

Spring Stepping Stone

Despite his struggles, Adenhart has already achieved the dream he has harbored since Little League, and he did it before his 22nd birthday.

"I knew I wanted to pitch in the major leagues by the time I was 9 years old," Adenhart said. "It was a great experience. I took it all in."

It was an experience to share. Adenhart's mother and stepfather, Duane and Janet Gigeous, flew from Algonquin, Ill., to Anaheim to watch the game.

"It was awesome they were able to make it," Adenhart said.

Meanwhile, a few thousand miles away, Adenhart's father, James, who lives in Fairplay, Md., had just undergone hip replacement surgery and was unable to attend the game.

He did the next best thing, scrambling to find someplace with DirecTV to watch the broadcast.

"When I saw him on the screen it sent chills up and down my spine," said James, who, with Adenhart's grandfather, listens to Bees broadcasts online.

"His grandfather screams at the Net. It's like radio; we're back in the 1950s. Sometimes I have to find a new location to listen."

James realized son was serious about baseball when he quit playing basketball at age 14. Adenhart had college potential.

"He was looking ahead, even at that stage," James said. "When he gets his mind on something and starts to focus . . ."

Adenhart came into 2008 focused and ready. He was 4-0, 0.83 after five starts with Salt Lake. Then again, the Bees were practically unbeatable. They won 24 of their first 26 games.

After moving to Southern California, Adenhart hired a personal trainer during the offseason and spent the winter months improving his strength and stamina.

He nearly made the big club out of spring training, but instead was optioned to the Pacific Coast League. It was a natural progression for him, seeing as he made 26 starts for Double-A Arkansas in 2007—at age 20—going 10-8, 3.65 with 116 strikeouts, 65 walks and just seven home runs allowed in 153 innings.

"There was maybe some disappointment at the end of spring," Adenhart said. "I had a good spring. It was a good stepping stone. We're all waiting for our opportunity."

Inconsistency In The Zone

Adenhart has made a full recovery from Tommy John surgery, having blown out his elbow as a senior at Williamsport (Md.) High. He slipped to the 14th round of the 2004 draft because teams knew he would miss a year while recovering from the surgery. Adenhart could fall back on his North Carolina commitment if teams didn't meet his asking price, but the Angels ponied up $710,000 that July.

The recovery took nearly two years, with Adenhart rehabbing at the Angels' minor league complex in Tempe, Ariz. In a way, the injury may have benefited Adenhart, who called the recovery period his red-shirt year.

"It gave me a chance to sit back and see how the professional world of baseball works," he said.

Adenhart's fastball consistently sits in the mid-90s, to go with an effective change and curve.

After returning to Salt Lake from Anaheim, Adenhart struggled, losing three straight decisions before beating Tacoma on June 1.

Ironically, he had his best fastball and curve of the season in his first start upon his return to Triple-A, a road game at Sacramento in which the River Cats beat up on Adenhart. He walked five and allowed five hits and six runs in 5 1/3 innings.

"I felt great," he said. "I was as comfortable as I felt all year. It just snowballed on me late. As far as making adjustments, I had my best stuff all year."

His strikeout-to-walk ratio continues to be a concern. Through nine starts and 53 2/3 innings, Adenhart had struck out 33 and walked 25 with Salt Lake. His ERA, though, stood at 3.02 and ranked eighth in the league.

"We need him to get more consistent in the strike zone," Bees manager Bobby Mitchell said. "To pitch in the big leagues he needs to do that. He can't get away with (walks) there."

Eventually, Mitchell believes Adenhart will become dominant in the strike zone.

"I'm still trying to figure it all out," Adenhart said. "I'm pretty hard on myself. I make it tough for me. A lot of people have said, 'Don't get down on yourself.'

"When I do well I can still enjoy it. I've gotten away from that a little. I don't want to lose the fun."

Renzhofer covers the Bees for the Salt Lake Tribune