What Jinx?

You've probably heard of all the traditional jinxes, curses and other pranks and gags associated with Halloween (and for that matter, the Cubs franchise as a whole). Billy Petrick just might have another one for you.

"I don't know what it is about Daytona," Petrick says, as if to imply there's a jinx associated between he and the city. "Maybe it's the heat and humidity."

The uncertainty lies within the past two times Petrick has attempted to pitch in the oft-sunny, sweltering conditions of the Florida State League town.

The 22-year-old right-hander made 10 starts between Low A Boise and High A Daytona this past season, but was shut down in early August as a precaution following shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in 2005.

Earlier this year, Petrick reported to Boise once short-season play began in mid-to-late June and went 5-0 with the Hawks, posting a 2.23 ERA in a league that wasn't meant to hold him for very long. He struck out 28 and walked 12 in 36 1/3 innings before going to Daytona for three starts.

That's where Petrick suffered what he termed "a setback." Specifically, he felt some soreness in the shoulder, which eventually led to the Cubs' decision to rest him for the remainder of the year, he says.

"It was just precautionary," Petrick said of being shut down. "I took some time off. I was still throwing, but they didn't want me to compete anymore the rest of the year."

A third-round pick from the 2002 draft, Petrick was offered a football scholarship by former Washington State coach Mike Price. He turned down the Cougars and was ranked the Cubs' fifth best prospect by Baseball America entering '05. The previous year, he won 13 games at Class-A Lansing while posting a 3.50 ERA and notching 113 strikeouts in 147 innings.

Petrick seemed poised for his first season of High A ball in 2005, but instead saw a loss of velocity and command before learning of the labrum tear. He was placed on the disabled list near the end of May and returned to make one start a month later before being shut down for good.

Entering 2006, Petrick had fallen to 18th overall in BA's list of the top 30 Cub prospects published each spring, and Baseball America Editor Jim Callis (no stranger to the Cubs' farm system) explained why.

"It's all a matter of health," Callis told Inside The Ivy back in March. "He had arthroscopic shoulder surgery. Angel Guzman also had shoulder surgery and is only now getting back to where he was."

Like Guzman, Petrick appears to be on the way back. When he returned to the mound against live competition last June, he says he noticed his velocity was strong but that his command was still shaky.

"I had all of my strength and power back," Petrick admits, "but I was really working on trying to get the location down. I was blowing away hitters, but throwing a lot of pitches every inning. I was throwing hard, but it would take me a while to put hitters away."

Petrick also said he felt he was throwing harder in Boise -- reportedly topping out in the low- to mid-90s -- than when he got to Daytona. In three starts in the Florida State League, he allowed 11 runs and 24 hits in 16 1/3 innings, striking out nine and walking two.

"My shoulder feels good. It's getting strong," Petrick said. "I threw one full side before I left for the off-season and it was one of the best sides of the year."

The plan now is for Petrick to get a full off-season's worth of rest heading into spring camp next year -- and maybe, just maybe, to leave Daytona and any possible jinx in the rearview mirror once and for all.

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