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Elizabeth Forward grad Hoover excited about pitching against Pirates

| Thursday, May 3, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
Cincinnati Reds pitcher J.J. Hoover delivers in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants, Wednesday, April 25, 2012, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Ernest Coleman)
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Cincinnati Reds pitcher J.J. Hoover delivers in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants, Wednesday, April 25, 2012, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Ernest Coleman)

When Elizabeth Forward's J.J. Hoover was called up to the Cincinnati Reds last week, he didn't need to look at the schedule to know where that first road trip was going to take him.

That is, if he was still around.

When you are a middle reliever, making your first appearance in the major leagues after being with the organization for fewer than two months, a lot can happen in the 10 days between when you are called up and scheduled to play in your hometown.

Hoover was well aware of it.

“I told my family not to get out of control because you never know what might happen,” Hoover said.

Throwing four innings without yielding a hit in his three outings might not guarantee him anything other than a chance to pitch in front of his hometown fans over the weekend, but Hoover will take it.

Hoover will join the Reds at PNC Park this weekend for a series against the Pirates, and the 2006 EF graduate couldn't be happier.

“It's going to be awesome,” Hoover said. “Being a big leaguer was my dream since I was 7. It is an absolute dream come true, and having a chance to pitch at PNC Park is going to be amazing.”

A contingent of friends and family is expected at PNC Park this weekend, including his high school coach, Frank Champ.

“I am really happy for him,” Champ said. “He eats, drinks and sleeps baseball, and he has worked so hard to get to this point.”

Hoover spent two years at Calhoun (Ala.) Community College before being a 10th-round draft pick in 2008 by Atlanta. He ascended from Low-A Rome to Triple-A Gwinnett in a span of three years before the Braves dealt him to Cincinnati days before the end of spring training this season.

“I was pretty shocked,” Hoover said. “I thought the Braves liked me more than they apparently did. I couldn't be happier with the trade, though. I am with an organization that wanted me.”

Hoover, who was rated as the Braves' 12th-best prospect by Baseball America, appeared in eight games for the Reds' Triple-A team in Louisville. He was 4 for 4 in save opportunities. He allowed three hits in nine innings and struck out 17.

“I wanted to make an impression with the new organization,” Hoover said. “I was still playing professional baseball, and I was really happy by having that chance.”

Hoover (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) was called up by the Reds on April 24 when they put Bill Bray on the 15-day disabled list.

Hoover's short stint with Louisville made an impression on Bats manager David Bell.

“He has a lot of life and deception on his fastball,” Bell told the Courier-Journal. “(Opposing batters) haven't been taking good swings and have been late. He has the ability to strike people out, possibly closer stuff.”

Hoover was a starter for virtually his entire minor league career. However, after struggling in two starts with Triple-A Gwinnett last year, he was sent back to Double-A Mississippi and was converted to relief following the all-star break.

Hoover was outstanding in the bullpen and earned his way back to Triple-A, where he posted a 3.38 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 19 innings.

“I think it helped me reach my goal a little faster,” Hoover said of the move to the bullpen. “Every pitcher wants to be the No. 1, but when it comes down to it, just being in the big leagues is my goal. Right now, my current goal is to show that I can pitch here and hopefully stick around for a while.”

In three outings since being called up, Hoover has yet to allow a hit or a run while striking out three and walking two.

“I can't lie and say I am not happy with how I progressed,” Hoover said. “I reached my goal, but it is time to make it stick. I am going to go out there every time I have the opportunity and make the best of it.”

Even if that does include doing it against his hometown team.

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mkaboly@tribweb.com

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