Durham Bulls' Jake Odorizzi making it look easy

csmith@newsobserver.comMay 9, 2013 

BBDBULLS-SP-040813-TEL

Durham Bulls' Jake Odorizzi (23) hurls against the Gwinnett Braves during the Bulls' season opener Monday, April 8, 2013, at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The Durham Bulls won 2-1.

TRAVIS LONG — tlong@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

  • Eye on Jake

    Bulls right-hander Jake Odorizzi has changed organizations three times in four seasons but has been considered one of the best prospects in the minors, according to Baseball America:

    Year;Team rank;Overall rank

    2010;9;NR

    2011;1;69

    2012;4;68

    2013;5;92

— Jake Odorizzi twice has been traded for a major league All-Star, but he wasn’t the centerpiece in either deal.

He has appeared in three organizations’ top 10 prospect lists, but Baseball America rated him the best just once.

He has won twice as many games as he has lost during the past three seasons, yet entered this season as the 92nd-ranked player in the minors.

Odorizzi, 23, has accomplished plenty in his minor league career, but most of all, he has flown under the radar.

That could be changing. On Sunday, the Durham Bulls right-hander threw seven hitless innings to lead a combined no-hit effort against the Pawtucket Red Sox – just the second in the Bulls’ International League history. It was also Odorrizi’s second. In 2010, he pitched eight innings in a combined no-hitter with the Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

“It was still really special for me to be a part of that even though it was my second one,” he said with a laugh. “Any time you can accomplish something like that, it’s pretty cool.”

Odorizzi, who will start Friday’s home game against Lehigh Valley, said Sunday’s result was a combination of many factors and fate.

“My control was good and things really just went our way,” he said. “They made contact, but it wasn’t hard contact a lot of times. It just came all together as a team for us that day.”

It’s coming together quite nicely for Odorizzi, too. He was traded, along with Wil Myers, from Kansas City to Tampa Bay this offseason. Rays All-Star pitcher James Shields and Myers drew headlines in that deal, but Shields’ departure also opened the door for Odorizzi to eventually get back to the major leagues. He made a brief debut last season with the Royals.

Odorizzi has won awards in eight leagues, including winning International League pitcher of the week last week – but it still hasn’t been an easy road.

Milwaukee selected Odorizzi in the supplemental first round in 2008 out of Highland (Ill.) High School, and he slowly began his climb.

After two short summers in rookie ball, Odorizzi moved up to Class A in 2010 and pitched more games and innings than his first two seasons combined, responding with a 7-3 record and 3.43 ERA. Following the best season of his career, he was traded to Kansas City as part of the deal that brought All-Star Zack Greinke to the Brewers.

Odorizzi responded by going 10-7 in two stops in 2011 and was even better last year, when he was 15-5 with a 3.03 ERA at Double A and Triple A. After he went 11-3 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, the Royals promoted him to the majors.

“He’s a good pitcher,” Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo said. “He’s got a chance to pitch in the big leagues. I’m not just saying that because he threw seven no-hit innings, he knows how to pitch.”

Odorizzi is 3-0 with the Bulls, has the team’s second-lowest ERA (2.65) and trails team leader Alex Torres by only two strikeouts (39).

His fastball reaches 93 mph – not overpowering at this level – yet he has struck out more than a batter per inning as a pro. Rays pitching coordinator Dick Bosman believes Odorizzi’s ability to pitch to contact this year has been critical to his success.

“There comes a point in your career where you realize they’re going to hit your best stuff and that you should change your approach,” said Bosman, who pitched 11 years in the majors. “That happened to me when I moved up to the Triple-A level and guys started hitting me and hitting me hard. That’s what I had to do and that’s what he’s doing.

“You give up control to gain control. He’s giving up control over striking guys out, but gaining control over forcing him to hit the ball to my fielders.”

Montoyo believes Odorizzi is making the case for another big league call-up with the Rays.

“Odorizzi’s pitching like an ace,” Montoyo said. “That’s what you need to do in this league if you want to pitch in the big leagues. That’s what (Jeremy) Hellickson and (David) Price and all of those guys did. You have to dominate the league, and he’s doing it right now.”

Smith: 919-829-4841

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