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Toronto Blue Jays' Kyle Drabek, center, watches a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles from the dugout, Monday, Sept. 13, 2010, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) (Nick Wass)
Toronto Blue Jays' Kyle Drabek, center, watches a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles from the dugout, Monday, Sept. 13, 2010, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) (Nick Wass)

Jeff Blair

Drabek buzz grows louder Add to ...

Kyle Drabek had better get used to it, because as of now, all the hype and Baseball America clippings and even the surname mean squat.

So it is good news that the 22-year-old right-hander passed his first test Monday afternoon under a gorgeous blue sky at Camden Yards. The men responsible for so much of the good things that have happened to the Toronto Blue Jays this season - pitching coach Bruce Walton and bullpen coach Rick Langford - watched the prospect's bullpen session to see if he was tipping his pitches from the stretch. Drabek didn't alter his mechanics noticeably, and later Walton told a media scrum that was all ears that Drabek "has a power curve," and that "there's not a lot of time for the hitters to figure they're seeing the hook." The change-up? "Work in progress," Walton said, shrugging.

The centrepiece of the off-season Roy Halladay trade with the Philadelphia Phillies, Drabek will make his major-league debut Wednesday night against the Baltimore Orioles. In attendance to watch the Double-A Eastern League pitcher of the year make his debut will be his father, former Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek, his mother and siblings. Looking on from the broadcast booth with a particular interest will be Hall of Famer and Orioles analyst Jim Palmer.

Palmer smiled Monday when it was suggested that for a baseball person there will always be something special about seeing a prized prospect make his debut.

"Why wouldn't it be?" Palmer asked. "Pitching's so important to the game. It can't be any other way. Of course it's special."

Palmer has a very clear check-list he runs through the first time he sees a phenom - which Drabek certainly is after going 14-9 (2.94 earned-run average) with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, striking out 132 in 162 innings.

"I look for how the ball comes out of his hand, what kind of wind-up he has, is there some deception …" Palmer said, his voice trailing off. "Velocity? Ah, not so much. A lot of guys throw hard. Not that it isn't a good attribute to have, but, I'm more interested in what kind of late life you have on your pitch."

Drabek's parents had gone out for doughnuts Sunday morning when the call came to the family's home in The Woodlands, Texas, telling their son he was going to be joining the parent team. The Blue Jays were watching Drabek's innings closely and general manager Alex Anthopoulos had as recently as early August ruled out calling up the pitcher. But with Brandon Morrow shut down, Brett Cecil on fumes and Marc Rzepczynski and others no sure-fire five-inning guarantees, the Jays decided to see what they had first-hand.

"I ran downstairs and told them I was called up, and my mom pretty much started crying and I could tell by my dad's face … well, he had a different smile than usual that morning," Drabek said Monday.

There is a presence to Drabek, a well-built 195-pound specimen who will look a questioner in the eye. His father was a tough customer who finished his 13-year career in Baltimore.

The younger Drabek likes to think he's as aggressive, but says that "while I have a little better fastball than he had, he has me on the off-speed stuff."

Asked what pleased him the most about his minor-league season, Drabek pointed to his consistency of delivery. "It's come a long way," he said. "In the beginning, it was like I had different movements for different pitches. Now, everything comes the same and everything stays the same."

Maybe, in terms of mechanics. But as Drabek must surely be aware, from Wednesday night on, nothing is the same. For much of this season, he has been for Blue Jays fans the antidote to everything done by Halladay in a Phillies uniform. The page isn't turned yet, but it is ready to be turned.

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