51s’ Gil makes pitch for big league shot

Like Babe Ruth and Rick Ankiel before him, former 51s outfielder Adam Loewen last season reached the major leagues as a position player after first getting there as a pitcher.

This year, Las Vegas relief pitcher Jerry Gil hopes to flip the script and ascend to the majors as a pitcher after first making it as a position player.

“I tell my agent almost every day I think I’m ready to pitch in the big leagues,” the 29-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic said.

A former shortstop and outfielder who appeared in 29 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004, Gil decided to reinvent himself as a pitcher in 2008 — a little more than a year after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in the elbow of his throwing arm.

Mired in a slump at Triple-A Louisville (Cincinnati Reds), Gil surprised his coaches with a request to be converted into a pitcher — a position he hadn’t played since Little League.

After hitting 96 mph on the radar gun the first time he threw off the mound, Gil’s wish was granted.

“I’ve always had a good arm,” he said. “Everybody said if I had started pitching at the beginning of my career, I’d probably be in the big leagues a couple years already.”

Beginning his fourth season as a pitcher, Gil (1-0) earned the 51s’ only victory of the season Friday by throwing a scoreless 10th inning in a 4-3 win over Sacramento at Cashman Field.

He also pitched a scoreless inning Saturday and another with two strikeouts Monday in a 9-3 home loss to Fresno that dropped Las Vegas to 1-4.

“He’s kind of a one- or two-inning guy. He’ll probably be a setup man,” 51s pitching coach Bob Stanley said. “He’s still learning to pitch after being a position player. He’s got a good, live arm. He just needs to work on his slider.

“If he gets that slider going, he’s going to be pretty good.”

Gil, who in 2006 led the Southern League with 26 home runs and was an All-Star at Double-A Tennessee, has made steady progress on the mound. He has climbed a level in each of the last three seasons while trimming his ERA from 7.89 in 2009 to 4.81 in 2010 to 3.59 last year in 54 appearance for Louisville.

Gil had a 2.14 ERA in the second half of last season, striking out 58 in 62 2/3 innings as he continued to refine his breaking pitches.

“I used to only throw fastballs, but now I can throw a changeup and slider. I feel much better,” he said. “Now I’m thinking more as a pitcher.”

While Gil made big strides in the pitcher-friendly International League, he’ll likely face his toughest test this year in the Pacific Coast League, where hitters rule.

“My theory is if you can pitch in the (PCL), you can pitch anywhere,” Stanley said. “It will be a good challenge for him.”

■ NOTES — Left-handed pitcher Aaron Laffey was recalled by the Blue Jays, who optioned right-hander Joel Carreno to Las Vegas. … 51s left fielder Travis Snider returned to the lineup after missing two games with a jammed right index finger.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

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