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Campos finding way as San Antonio starter

Padres right-hander spins six two-hit frames, fans eight for Missions
August 21, 2014

As he transitions from the bullpen to the rotation, Leonel Campos is learning how to navigate the fine line between being aggressive and too aggressive.

The right-handed Padres prospect took another step toward finding that balance when he tossed six two-hit innings en route to Double-A San Antonio's 5-0 shutout of Frisco at Dr Pepper Ballpark.

"Frisco has a lot of guys that can hurt you at any time, especially in Frisco, where it's more of a hitters' park," Missions pitching coach Jimmy Jones said. "They have a lot of ways that they can hurt you, with power or speed [and Campos] made the pitches he needed to make. He wasn't perfect, but he was like, 'I need to bear down and throw my pitch.'''

Campos tied a career high with eight strikeouts, including whiffs of top two Rangers prospects Joey Gallo and Jorge Alfaro, while walking only one in his longest professional outing.

"One thing about him being a starter as opposed to a reliever is being able to mix in all his pitches and that's one thing he did. He seemed to be more composed," Jones said. "That's what we want to see -- the idea of keeping that same tempo, same intensity, almost like a machine out there with some emotion.

"You don't want to get out of hand, you don't want to get too much aggression. You just want to make a pitch and make a pitch and be aggressive and that's what he did."

Once a soccer player in Venezuela, Campos turned his sole focus to baseball. He came to the States and signed with the Padres in 2011. He made one start for Class A Short Season Eugene before he had to undergo Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him until the 2013 season.  

He pitched for Class A Fort Wayne, Triple-A El Paso and twice with Double-A San Antonio. Over that time, the 27-year-old was projected to be a middle and long reliever, but the Padres saw how well he fed off the adrenaline of later innings. So in June, the organization turned the right-hander into a starter.

"I don't know where his future lies as a starter or a reliever. It could be as a reliever, but as far as his development is concerned, he definitely needed the innings, because this is just his second full season," Jones said. "He is 27, but has a very young arm ... still learning nuisances and learning how to pitch.

"He's almost like a college guy coming out at 22 years old. As far as strength, he is where he needs to be. His elbow is great, he's gone past that two-year period. The surgery has taken well."

In the rotation, Campos sports a 5.15 ERA over 12 starts and hadn't thrown a scoreless outing prior to Wednesday since July 3. But in each start, he has improved in innings pitched, runs allowed or another facet of his game.

"You want to see the craft go up as far as development. Each start out, there's been a development, there's never been a backslide," Jones said. "You want to see that graph going upward, and to me with him, that's what I see. I see a guy who is more clean mechanically. He is more of pitcher than he was as a reliever."

Matt Branham, Adys Portillo and R.J. Avarez each chipped in a scoreless inning of relief to give the Missions their 11th shutout of the season. It marked just the fourth time this season the RoughRiders were shut out and the first since July 6.

Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.