Aug. 29, 2006
By Scott Hanson
Seattle Times staff
He had been nervous all day, his stomach churning.
This was likely going to be a one-night show for Austin Bibens-Dirkx, and he wanted to make the most of it.
The 16th-round draft pick by the Seattle Mariners was pitching for short-season Class A Everett when he was asked to drive about 90 minutes south on June 24 to join Class AAA Tacoma, which had just played some extra-inning games and was short on pitching.
"I knew I wasn't going to be there long, but I knew it would be a great opportunity for me," said Bibens-Dirkx, a lifelong Mariners fan who grew up in Salem, Ore., and played for the University of Portland.
Less than three weeks after being drafted, Bibens-Dirkx found himself one level below the big leagues, pitching the final two innings against Portland. After allowing two hits, he struck out the side, then struck out two more in a scoreless ninth.
That has been the highlight of an outstanding first year of pro ball for Bibens-Dirkx. He was promoted from Everett to Class A Wisconsin less than a week after his one-day outing with Tacoma.
"I was surprised to move up so quickly, but honestly, I think a lot of that had to do with what I did in the Triple-A game," he said.
With Wisconsin, Bibens-Dirkx is 1-2 with a 2.42 earned-run average. He has struck out 31 and walked four in 26 innings. Overall, he has struck out 42 and walked six in throwing 32 innings for the three teams.
"I've just been trying to throw strikes," he said. "I've never had that kind of ratio before."
It would have been hard to predict this much success for Bibens-Dirkx based on his one year at Portland after transferring from Chemeketa Community College in Salem. He was 1-5 for the Pilots despite having a team-best 4.19 ERA and seven saves.
"To be honest, the big difference is the wood bats," Bibens-Dirkx said of hitters in the minor leagues. "With the wood bats, it's easier to get away with a mistake. I have also gotten a lot of help from Lance Painter, our pitching coach, and [former Mariner] Norm Charlton, a roving instructor. They have really tried to teach me the importance of pitching inside, and I think I am throwing my pitches a lot crisper."
Bibens-Dirkx throws sidearm and said his fastball tops out between 90 and 93 mph.
"I was kind of tired at the end of the college season and my velocity was down to 88 to 90, but I took a couple of weeks off after the season and my arm got a second wind," he said.
Despite playing for Portland and three minor-league teams in the past few months, Bibens-Dirkx said he feels great.
"I am really enjoying it here," he said of Wisconsin. "We would like to be winning a few more games, but the people here in Appleton are great and we have a good fan base. And, I am performing well, which also makes it nice."