Clay Condrey Molds Into Better Pitcher

After one dazzling stint in the majors and another not so dazzling stint in the majors, Clay Condrey found himself in baseball purgatory. The San Diego Padres were reluctant to give him another major league shot, but he had achieved enough at AAA to be ready for the majors. This spring a trade to the Phillies, a team loaded with a solid major league rotation and lots of young, minor league pitching, seemed to be bad for Condrey. On the contrary, it's been a good move.

Most minor leaguers realize that while you're trying to win games and you're trying to impress the front office of your particular organization, you're also playing for 29 other major league organizations that may be watching you. That may be the case for 28 year old Clay Condrey.

Back in 2002, it looked like Condrey was going to become a part of the Padres pitching staff. In nine games – three of them starts – Condrey amassed a 1.69 major league ERA. He had a solid collection of pitches, poise on the mound and a minor league resume that was solid enough to get him to the majors. Things change.

In 2003, Condrey just couldn't find the way to jump start his season. After pitching in nine more major league games – six starts – Condrey was lost and his ERA had ballooned to 8.47 for San Diego. It was back to the minors. Even then, Condrey struggled at times and finished the 2003 season at AAA Portland with a 4.14 ERA, the highest since he had reached AAA back in 2001.

You might be thinking that Condrey deserved a chance to sort of break the tie of one good season and one bad, but the Padres didn't see it that way. In an off-season where San Diego brought in the likes of Ismael Valdez and David Wells, there was no room at the inn for Clay Condrey. As spring training's end approached, Condrey heard rumors of pending trades and suddenly found himself in Scranton with the AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons.

On the surface, the deal might not look like it was too good for Condrey. The Phillies major league rotation is deep and already has Ryan Madson and Amaury Telemaco at the major league level, just waiting for a chance to move into the rotation. Plus, the line gets longer with young pitchers coming through the minors hoping for their chance at the majors before too long. Even at Scranton, there were pitchers like Josh Hancock who were highly thought of and ready to move to the major league level.

Condrey simply came to town and has made the most of his chance. Maybe, it's the new scenery or maybe the direction of different pitching coaches and minor league instructors, but Condrey is throwing better than he has in a long time. Condrey threw the first complete game of his career last week and followed that up with eight very strong innings against Pawtucket Tuesday night. The outing started rough for Condrey, who allowed all three of the earned runs that he gave up, in the first two innings. From there, he settled in and shut down Pawtucket, striking out six hitters along the way. The Red Barons eventually lost the game 5-4 in 11 innings. Condrey has pitched so well this season that even though his ERA over his last two starts is 2.65, his season ERA has "jumped" to 1.85 at Scranton.

Much of the credit goes to catcher A.J. Hinch. Condrey and Hinch seem to be on the same page pitch wise and Hinch admits to challenging Condrey to pitch "outside the book" when it comes to pitch selection. Condrey has willingly played along with Hinch, leading to a lot of success.

With the Phillies not in the market or feeling the need to add to their corps of starting pitchers, Condrey seems destined to be at AAA for the immediate future. The fact that he's not on the 40 man roster also complicates things, since the Phillies would have to open a spot for him there before they could do anything. That's where other teams come in. With David Coggin, Brian Powell, Josh Hancock and Ed Yarnall, in addition to Condrey, the AAA rotation appears set. Plus, Shane Bowers has also started three games for the Red Barons and is just waiting for his shot at the rotation. Keep in mind too, that Gavin Floyd is just one step away from AAA and the Phillies might want to get a look at him at the highest minor league level before too long.

All of the signs point to a possible move for the Phillies. The major league club has been kicking around the idea of shopping for a veteran reliever to add to the mix. With a rejuvenated Condrey at AAA, there could be interest from other clubs, especially those that lost out on getting him when the Padres dealt him to Philadelphia. Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Texas are all rumored to be looking around for young pitchers with at least a little major league experience. Condrey could fit their needs nicely.

Wherever he winds up, it appears that if Condrey can continue his new approach to hitting, his future seems bright. The minor league numbers are now even more solid, his first ever complete game is under his belt and Condrey seems to have found a new way of getting hitters out. Clay Condrey could become one of those minor deals made at the end of spring training that winds up getting a lot of attention. If not for what Condrey can do for the Phillies, then for what he may be able to do for them as part of a trade package.

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