Faris' progression in transition

EUGENE-- The career of Stephen Wayne Faris has been a case study in two phenomena: progression and transition. From a 6.86 ERA and no starts in his freshman year in college to a 2.36 mark in 18 starts in a dominating junior year, Faris has progressed. From reliever to starter, from hitter to pitcher, Faris has transitioned.

And now, thrust from a record-setting three-year career as a Clemson's ace into a role as a reliever and sometimes starter for the San Diego Padres' short-season Single-A affiliate, the Eugene Emeralds, Faris must prepare to do both once again.

The end of Faris' senior season at John Randolph Tucker High School marked the beginning of the first transition the young right-hander would have to make. He was wildly successful that year both on the mound and at the plate. As a hitter, he hit at a .475 clip and was named Player of the Year in both the district and the region. In 48 innings pitched that year he notched a 0.88 ERA and fanned 71 hitters and walked only 12.

For his career to progress once he had committed to Clemson, though, Faris had to say goodbye to the bat. If he ever wanted to fulfill his dream of going pro, he had to focus hard on pitching for the duration of his college career. Although his choice of the mound over the batter's box was a relatively easy one, Faris admits that he sometimes still misses the thrill of digging in against a pitcher and trying to line a shot a back through the box.

"Yeah, it was fun," Faris admitted. "I had a good time hitting and all that stuff. Maybe, hopefully, one day they say you get to hit again in Double-A. Hopefully if I do well pitching and whatnot maybe I'll get that chance to hit again. Obviously it's not as important as pitching right now. It was a lot of fun back in those days, I had a lot of fun doing it and hopefully I'll get to do it again someday."

Once his high school career had ended and his college career at Clemson had begun, Faris had to work to reestablish himself as a force to be reckoned with. He had to start small and that meant proving his worth as a reliever before he would have a chance to crack the Tigers' rotation.

For the most part, his numbers were not good in his freshman year. He gave up 57 hits and 32 earned runs in 42 innings of work while compiling an equally lackluster 1-3 record. There was one impressive number buried deep within the stats though — a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 2:1. In those 42 innings Faris struck out 24 men while walking only 11.

Another factor that may have contributed to Faris' increased role in his sophomore year was his performance against the SEC. In 13.2 innings versus in-conference foes, Faris compiled a 1-0 record with an ERA nearly three runs lower than his overall mark that year. Numbers like these made it easy for Clemson coach Jack Leggett to let Faris keep working, learning, and progressing into 2005.

Faris threw 55 more innings than he did in 2004, and by the end of the year he had earned himself the role of Friday starter. In the combined roles, his numbers were much improved. His 6-4 record, 2.60 ERA and 79 strikeouts solidified not only his ascension back into the starter's role, but also his emergence into contention for ace of the staff.

In 2006, Faris grabbed that role by the throat and never let it go.

One of the early peaks of his junior year came on March 26 when he helped his tenth-ranked Tigers finish off a three-game sweep of the North Carolina State Wolfpack, ranked 12th nationally. In that game, Faris struck out five and scattered four hits over eight innings of shutout ball. That win moved Clemson to ten games better than .500 and moved them back to even in the ACC.

Overall, Faris' final year in the NCAA was a rousing success. He started 18 games and posted a 9-3 mark with a 2.36 ERA. In his 103 innings pitched he struck out 86 men, walked only 20 and threw one complete game.

In the postseason with the Tigers, Faris was able to add something to his young resume that sets him apart from his Emeralds teammates: a trip to Omaha this past summer for the College World Series (CWS). In the series, Faris and the Clemson Tigers won their first game versus Georgia Tech at Rosenblatt Stadium, but subsequent losses to North Carolina and Cal-State Fullerton sent them home after the second round.

In his one appearance in the CWS, Faris pitched eight sharp innings but came up the hard-luck loser as Clemson fell to North Carolina, 2-0. Over those eight innings, Faris allowed five singles and two doubles and struck out five Tar Heels.

Despite the early exit, the 22-year-old was just happy to have gotten the chance to compete in the tournament.

"It was unbelievable…It was everything they said it was, it was an unbelievable experience. [I] had a great time; we didn't exactly perform the way I wanted to. As far as the team wise I thought I threw pretty well and I had a great time. Overall, I enjoyed it and it's something I will always remember," Faris said.

A month after being eliminated from play at the CWS, Faris finalized his contract with the Padres and was on his way to Salem to join the Emeralds on their road series with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.

Faris' first appearance as an Emerald came on July 10 in Everett, Wash. against the Aquasox. He entered in the eighth inning of a 5-5 ballgame and held Everett in check with a 1-2-3 inning.

Although he had significant experience as reliever, Faris was put at ease by manager Doug Dascenzo's assurance that he would eventually crack the Eugene rotation.

"He's [Doug Dascenzo] told me that they have eight guys in the rotation and I've kind of been the ninth guy. It's just that there's too many pitchers and nowhere to go. He keeps putting me in and I'm still doing some stuff as far as when I'm not throwing. It's just that I'm not starting yet. Of course, you know I took a couple of weeks off after we finished and got back from the World Series. So, we're just kind of gradually building me back up. Eventually, he said he's going to put me back in the starting role. He goes ‘we still see you as a starter.' So there's nothing really changed, it's just that I'm not starting the beginning of the game, I'm starting a new inning later in the game."

Two weeks after making his first appearance, Faris took on the Vancouver Canadians in his first professional start. It was his first start since the College World Series — and it showed.

Faris lasted just 3.1 innings, giving up five earned runs on seven hits including a home run. After the game, he was understandably downtrodden, but also positive about what the future may hold.

"I had a pretty good first inning," said Faris. "I got behind a little bit, got a couple of double plays to help me out. After that I just kind of fell behind. I made a couple of mistakes here and there and after that I don't know. I just didn't throw very well. Other than that, it's a learning experience and I just have to move on and try to take the positives out of that and work on the bad things."

Faris' repertoire includes a fastball which tops out around 88 miles per hour, a curveball, a slider and a changeup. It's the last pitch, the changeup, that Faris has been working with Eugene pitching coach Wally Whitehurst to try and make more prominent in his arsenal.

"At this point in the career, they've [Faris and the other Eugene pitchers] got to be able to throw a fastball and a changeup, both for strikes," Whitehurst said. "And getting them to trust them when they do throw it and the only way we're going to get them to trust it is to get them to throw it more and that's what we're trying to do here is to get him to throw it a little bit more where he has more confidence in it and it's going to carry him a long way."

Faris' delivery is unnaturally violent. Not to the point where it becomes problematic, but it does produce a few kinks, which could hurt him in the long run. Whitehurst has been working with him to help eliminate some of these issues while still keeping the foundation of his delivery intact.

"He gets a little quick at times and he's a little short, his arm action is a little short," added Whitehurst. "But, from new guys coming in I don't like to change anything because they were drafted for a reason and our job really is to evaluate and take that throughout the summer for two-and-a-half months and then come spring training if there's some things we need to work on and for him to correct, that's when we'll do it. But for now, we let them go out there and just go ahead and pitch.".

A big part of every pitcher's game is his attitude both on and off the field. Faris' lighthearted, court jester persona keeps him well-anchored through the good times and the bad.

"He was a good teammate." Steve Richard, Faris' former teammate at Clemson and current closer with the Aquasox, said. He was an up kind of kid. He's always in a good mood. He was good to have around the clubhouse…He's pretty much a jokester, he's just joking around all the time. He doesn't really get too serious. He doesn't really get too down or too high. He's pretty even-keeled."

When asked about Faris' best jokes around the clubhouse, Richard noted that it wasn't any specific incidents, but rather the whole package that made him fun to have around.

"He's just an all-around funny kid. [It's] just little stuff that he does; his laugh is pretty funny in itself. That's about it, just the little stuff that he does, the little tricks he plays on people. But, that's about it."

Even though they were teammates for a season, Richard says Faris never played any tricks on him.

"No. He wouldn't play any tricks on me. We're too close where he's not going to play any tricks on me. He usually got the younger guys," Richard clarified.

He may not know it yet, but his willingness to both work and listen and his sunny outlook on life may be the factors that vault him to the top. They helped him make the transitions from high school hitter to college pitcher and from college reliever to college ace. Now, he hopes, those same attributes help him make enough progress to transition from single-A starter to big league ace.

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