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LONG BUS RIDES, HEAT DON'T BEAT HAMMOND'S HOWARD

Sunday, August 7, 2011 • POSTED BY:  George Castle Times Correspondent

The longest bus ride is up to eight hours, sometimes arriving as late as 9 a.m. the day of a game after an all-night drive, while getting stuck in traffic coursing through New York.

If a 116-degree gametime heat index isn't hot enough, then what about the one bus ride when the air conditioning failed?

Those buses aren't conduscive to sleep.

After all that, pitching in his first pro season in the Baltimore Orioles farm system has been the easy part for Hammond's Trent Howard.

The left-hander, a Clark alum, sure isn't in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., and Central Michigan University anymore.

His control that had him drafted in the seventh round by the Orioles in June and awarded a $175,000 signing package has served him well amid the more challenging playing conditions of the Class A New York-Penn League.

Howard is pitching for the Aberdeen (Md.) IronBirds, a team owned by Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. where he received the New York-Penn League's Pitcher of the Week honor for the week ending July 31. In 11 scoreless innings in two starts in that week, Howard gave up just four hits and four walks while striking out 15 batters. Howard is the first IronBirds player to earn the league's pitcher of the week award this season.

During his final collegiate season in the spring, Howard twice won the Mid-American Conference West pitcher of the week award.

"It's not something that you necessarily go out there and have on your mind to do," Howard said. "You just go out there and pitch. It's one of those nice things to have."

After Friday's 10-3 victory over Hudson Valley, Howard is now 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA. He's given up 27 hits in 32 1/3 innings, with 10 walks and 38 strikeouts. His WHIP is 1.14.

"It definitely went a lot better than I could have ever imagined," Howard said. "I don't think anyone could have expected me to come into pro ball and have a 2.50 (ERA) or whatever I have."

Howard got lucky with the presence of Aberdeen pitching coach Scott McGregor. A finesse lefty in his 138-win career that included 20- and 18-victory seasons, McGregor can relate to Howard.

"His big thing is working off my fastball," Howard said of McGregor. "I've actually thrown more fastballs out here than I have ever before. It's working really well. It's something nice to have. He really knows his stuff. He can help me in any way I need him to."

Howard said Class A hitters are more disciplined than in college.

"It seemed like half the hitters (in college), you can throw a curve in the dirt with two strikes, and they're out every single time," he said. "Out here, not so much. One nice thing about working off the fastball, it seems to get in the hitters' heads."

Howard hopes to pitch in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game this month to wrap up his season, before heading back to classes at Central Michigan.