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Faces on the Field: Aaron Jensen
08/04/2006 10:22 AM ET
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. -- Take away one 16-day stretch, and Aaron Jensen would be having quite a season. Knock the four starts he made during those 16 days in July from his resume, and its likely Jensen would be pitching in the Texas League right now, not the California.

The Utah native, however, is well aware that wishful thinking won't change the facts. He's 3-6 with a 5.97 ERA for Inland Empire. But subtract that two-week stretch, and Jensen's season has a completely different look. Eliminate the 12 innings he labored through in those four starts, and suddenly Jensen's record becomes 3-2 with a 2.45 ERA.

What skewed Jensen's numbers this year? Well, he gave up 33 runs, 28 of which were earned, on 34 hits beginning July 2. He also issued nine walks and uncorked a pair of wild pitches in consecutive starts against Rancho Cucamonga, Lancaster, Rancho again and Lake Elsinore.

And as quickly as his season appeared to unravel, it mended itself. Jensen allowed five earned runs over his ensuing three starts, winning two -- including Wednesday's victory over Stockton -- while striking out 17 and walking six. His journey through the Twilight Zone seemingly over, Jensen is looking to finish strong at Inland and begin preparing for 2007.

"I just started to fall behind and stuff wasn't working," said Jensen, who the Mariners drafted out of Springville High School in the 19th round of the 2003 draft. "I was in a slump. It was hard to compete. It was just a matter of more focus I guess. I don't know, it was a weird phase."

"Nothing was going my way, either," said Jensen. "They would get a bloop hit here and there and then a double, and all of a sudden it's 3-0. I was thinking what the heck."

That may have been part of the problem. Inland's pitching coach Scott Budner said that once the situation started to go sour for Jensen, it spiraled out of control. He called the youngster a "deep thinker who is very hard on himself," and as a result of those deep thoughts, regaining control became difficult.

Both Jensen and Budner, however, said the four-game stretch proved to be a learning experience that taught the hurler a great deal about himself and about pitching. A devout Mormon, Jensen also drew on his faith for strength. His beliefs helped him remain as focused as possible despite what was going on around him.

"His head has a tendency to get in the way," Budner said. "He lost command, and it was just a bad time. But before and after, it's been good. And he's starting to get his confidence back. He's like a little bull in a china shop. You just have to keep him calm."

"Sometimes kids lose confidence," Budner said. "He started pressing after one bad outing. When he's like that he has a tendency to overthrow and mentally, sometimes being not being in as much of a rush, is better when you're pitching. You try to overdo things and overpower the hitter, and that's not where you need to be at."

So Jensen's season remains, at least in part, a mystery. What hasn't been baffling, however, is how he's been able to work his change-up back into his repertoire and become a more complete pitcher despite the hiccup he had last month. He said he had used his curveball a lot earlier in his career and in high school but had had begun to shy away from it.

Jensen lost confidence in the pitch as a result and, at the urging of the club, has begun to put it back into his arsenal. Now he's regaining confidence in the pitch and it has proven to be an effective complement to what Budner labeled a decent slider.

"I wish my stats were a little better, but it all comes with getting better," Jensen said. "That's what being in the Minor Leagues is all about, working on things. I'm just happy I'm getting my innings in."

"My first year [2004] in the Minor Leagues was kind of a shock," Jensen said. "I didn't know there were so many Minor League teams and how long it would take. It was a shock that my progress was so slow. You need a lot of time, and I was shocked at how much I didn't know. But I've learned so much and am a totally different pitcher now."

Those 16 days in July played a big part in his development, or so it would seem. Jensen has learned from that little stretch of adversity and is hopeful that he won't have to go through another such period any time soon.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.