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Hard-throwing Hebner climbing ranks in the minors
Cody Hebner's minor league baseball career has been a textbook example of upward mobility.
Ever since the San Diego Padres drafted Hebner out of Green River Community College with the 143rd pick in the fourth round of the 2011 Major League Baseball amateur draft, the 6-foot, right-handed pitcher has been steadily climbing the ranks of the organization.
After stints in all three of the Padres' Single-A affiliates – the short-season Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds, the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps, and the advanced Lake Elsinore (Calif.) Storm – Hebner reported this past week to spring training in Peoria, Ariz. with the Triple-A El Paso (Texas) Chihuahuas.
"You always have to come and earn a job," Hebner said. "You want to be practicing in spring training with a team that is two levels higher than the one you last played with. You can't read too much into anything in spring training, but it was nice to see my name on that list training with El Paso."
A glance at Hebner's stats through his first three seasons makes it clear why he is where he is.
In his first season with Eugene, Hebner went 2-2 as a starter, with a 3.35 ERA in 37.2 innings pitched. Hebner had 39 strikeouts and walked just 15 batters for the Emeralds before getting the call up to the TinCaps.
There he continued to improve, refining his fastball to a 97-mile-per-hour monster, going 7-7 in 20 starts with one save in 109.2 innings of work. Hebner had 110 strikeouts, five walks and a 5.01 ERA before again progressing, this time to Lake Elsinore.
In California, the organization decided that Hebner's talents would be better suited out of the bullpen as a setup man and closer.
He adapted well to his new role, going 2-2 with four saves through 74.2 innings, 78 strikeouts and a 3.62 ERA.
"At the beginning I loved starting because that was what I was used to," Hebner said. "It's great now, though. I'd start again if they wanted, but being a setup and closing guy is awesome, and it suits me well with how I throw. I enjoy coming in the seventh and eighth with runners on. It's the hero-or-the-goat thing. I like that pressure."
At this stage in his career, Hebner said it's no longer about physical or mechanical improvements. At this level, it's all about his approach and the mental game.
"I've kind of honed (my mechanics)," he said. "Now it's just about repeating it and having an approach about how I go about doing it. It's mental. You get to know the guys because you face them so much. You start learning to read swings and read batters and know how to approach them."
Hebner said he relies on his fastball, his slider and splitter, the last of which is back in his repertoire after a two-year absence.
To earn his shot at the big leagues, Hebner gave up a shot at an education, courtesy a full-ride scholarship to Arizona State University.
And even though he's still waiting for the ultimate payout on his decision to turn pro, Hebner said, there is no place he'd rather be than on the mound.
"I'm going to do this for as long as I can and as long as people want me to pitch for them," he said. "I love the game. I love competing. That's something you can't find everywhere. The rush you get competing and facing a hitter — it's just something I've wanted to do ever since I was in diapers. I'm not going to stop pursuing my dream."