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Coast to coast: Herndon adjusts to a new league

By DAVID DRIVER

Special to the Daily Press

Bowie, Md. — Junior Herndon played for Portland last year.



And he is playing for Portland this season.

But his situation this summer is much different than 2002.



Herndon, a Moffat County High School graduates, played for Class AAA Portland (OR) in the Pacific Coast League last year in the San Diego Padre farm system.

But prior to this season he was picked up by the Boston Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft, and he is currently a starter for the Class AA Portland (ME) Sea Dogs of the Eastern League.

“It is just kind of a different program,” said Herndon, who added that the Boston minor league system is very structured.

Herndon is slated to start on the mound tonight here against the Bowie Baysox, a farm team of the nearby Baltimore Orioles, in the finale of a four-game series between the two Eastern League teams.

The Baysox have a formidable lineup that includes several former big leaguers, including Ruben Rivera, Ivanon Coffie and Juan Diaz.

What does Herndon, who turns 25 on Sept. 11, need to do to get back to the major leagues?

“Right now it is just consistency,” said the 6-foot-1 right-hander, standing outside the Portland clubhouse after his team’s 9-1 win here Wednesday afternoon. “You have to put six or eight good starts in a row” together.

Herndon is 5-4 with an ERA of 5.23 going into Thursday night’s start. In 17 games (15 starts) he has allowed 109 hits and 18 walks in 86 innings, with 33 strikeouts.

He has allowed 13 homers and opponents are hitting .309 against him. Last year he was 7-13 with an ERA of 5.26 in 28 games (27 starts) for Portland in the Pacific Coast League.

There is some good news in his numbers this season.

“I have cut down on my walks this year,” said Herndon, who allowed 52 walks in 159 innings a year ago.

Herndon, drafted by the Padres in 1997, made it to the majors with San Diego in 2001. He was 2-6 with an ERA of 6.33 in 12 games, with eight starts

“Junior is a very professional individual,” said Bob Kipper, the Portland pitching coach. “He brings experience to this ball club. I just like his professionalism.”

Herndon enjoys working with Kipper, who pitched eight years in the majors and was Boston’s bullpen coach in 2002.

“He has been great. He doesn’t try to clone everyone,” Herndon said. “He is an individual (oriented) pitching coach.”

Herndon pulled a groin muscle during a road game June 17, and he was put on the disabled list five days later. He came off the disabled list July 7.

“He was on a roll” before the injury, Kipper said.

Kipper said Herndon throws a fastball, change up, curve ball and cutter.

The Red Sox, on Monday, were involved in a four-pitcher trade that sent former Sea Dog closer Anastacio Martinez and Brandon Lyon to Pittsburgh for major league veteran Scott Sauerbeck and Mike Gonzalez.

Martinez had 14 saves for Portland, but Herndon said he feels the Sea Dogs have what it takes to win the northern division title in the Eastern League. Portland is 53-45 after Wednesday’s win here.

“We have a great bullpen,” Herndon said. “Our pitching has been there all year.”

Herndon, now that he is healthy, said he hopes to contribute to the Sea Dog staff in the closing weeks of the season.

David Driver, a Maryland resident, is a free-lance baseball writer who has covered the Eastern League for 10 years. He can be reached at davidsdriver@aol.com.


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