Young sidearmer Steve Schmoll surprises Dodgers

The surprise addition to the Dodger roster definitely has to be Steve Schmoll. But, then, he's been surprising people ever since he became a self-made pitcher a few years ago. When Steve graduated from high school in Rockville, Md., he wasn't a pitcher. Nor as an outfielder was he good enough either to be drafted or to be offered a college scholarship. But he had the desire to continue so he enrolled in near-by University of Maryland where he attempted to make the team as a walk-on.

He didn't. "Couldn't hit enough," he was told. That didn't deter him, either. Since he could commute to the campus, he went home, built a mound in his back yard and began teaching himself to pitch. After all, he'd been told he had a good arm.

Make the team he did although not in sensational fashion. That began when, again in the backyard with a friend, he tried a sidearm delivery. His buddy took some hacks at it and said, "You ought to keep at that".

Thereafter, he began to blossom. Awarded another year of competition by the NCAA because he hadn't played the usual four, he stayed on at school as a fifth-year senior. Not, however, as one on any scout's horizon, at least, at the start of the 2003 season. But that was soon to change.

By now, his sidearm tactic began delivering huge rewards. He became the Terps' closer, soon the best in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Among the first scouts to notice his promise was the Dodgers' Clair Rierson, who also noted that, as a fifth-year senior, Schmoll could sign as a free agent before the draft should he so choose. Rierson called scouting director Logan White to exclaim, "We have to try to get this guy!" White encouraged him to do so.

By the end of the season, Schmoll had tied for the ACC lead with 124 strikeouts, achieved in only 88 innings. His average of 12.7 K's per inning was the fourth-best in the nation. The bidding for his services had become fierce but Rierson (and the Dodgers) won. He signed with L.A. because he "Liked their approach and the fact that they had a reputation for developing pitchers. "The $75,000 bonus helped, too.

He began his pro career at Ogden in the Pioneer League where he became the closer, posting a 3-1 record with a 3.68 ERA, seven saves, and, most notably, 53 strikeouts in 36.2 innings .His deliveries reached the mid-90's and, what's more, he had control, walking only 15.

At the beginning of 2004, then organizational pitching instructor Mark Brewer worked with Steve to lower his arm slot even more. It isn't a true submarine style but it's darn close. Promoted to Vero Beach, he again became the closer. His fast ball sits around 90 and moves extremely well as does his slider. Righthanded batters find it next to impossible to pick the ball up and left-handed hitters don't fare much better for all his deliveries arrive with a shwoosh that Nike would be proud of.

At Vero, he was 3-3, 1.80 with 10 saves in 37 games before the Dodgers decided to challenge him more with a promotion to Jacksonville. There he lost his only two decisions but a 1.80 ERA, two saves, and 18 strikeouts in 19.2 innings are better indications that he pitched well. Well enough to be sent to the Arizona Fall League where only the better prospects need apply.

Here, he positively glittered, winning his only decision for the Scottsdale Scorpions. White, a resident of Scottsdale, charted him often and informed the front office that, "This kid has big league pitches."

Under some circumstances that might have resulted in an invitation to camp as a non-roster player. However, his extensive work in three leagues in less than a year prompted the decision to let him rest, then come to camp with the other minor leaguers who reported at the beginning of March and observe him from there.

Everything he showed in camp was to his advantage, so much so that he was given a chance to pitch in two big league exhibitions. In both he held the enemy at bay, striking out the side in his one inning of the second chance. That prompted a decision to take him to L.A.

"He's going to pitch in the big leagues soon," declared Jim Tracy. And when Eric Gagné had to be placed on the disabled list, it became very soon as the move was made to add him to the roster rather than the more experienced campers like Ryan Rupe and Mike Venafro.

This 6-2, 200-pound righthander just celebrated his 25th birthday on Feb. 4 so it is felt that he has the maturity to handle whatever role he's assigned. That won't be closing -- at least, not for now.

But in the future? Please, remember he has a way of surprising people. And when he is called in his first official big league game, don't blame him if he pauses for a moment and thinks that it's a long way from that self-built backyard mound.