Reds' pitcher J.J. Hoover returns home amid scuffles



Growing up in Elizabeth, J.J. Hoover liked the Pirates, but, thanks to TBS, he also was an Atlanta Braves fan.

With TBS broadcasting Braves games nationally until 2007, it wasn't hard for Hoover to follow the Braves in the 1990s and early 2000s. Those teams featured some of his favorite pitchers in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.

Years later, it came as a shock when the Braves organization he grew up watching and that drafted him in 2008, traded him to the Cincinnati Reds.

A 2006 graduate of Elizabeth Forward High School, Hoover was drafted after two seasons with Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Ala. He spent nearly four years in the minors before the April 2012 trade.

On the last day of spring training at Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Hoover, thinking he was destined to play at Class AAA Gwinnett, was heading to his truck when he was chased down in the parking lot. He was told to return to the clubhouse, where he found out he had been traded to Cincinnati for infielder Juan Francisco.

"It was completely out of the blue," Hoover said. "I said, 'All right, what happens now?' "

Hoover joined Class AAA Louisville, but, by the end of the month, was making his major league debut as a reliever with the Reds against the San Francisco Giants at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

"I wasn't too nervous until they called me into the game," he said. "The adrenaline pump I got was out of this world."

Hoover walked the first batter he faced, Emmanuel Burriss. After a fly to right, Hoover got pitcher Barry Zito to bunt into a double play.

Hoover recalled how first baseman Joey Votto nearly took his head off with the throw to second on Zito's bunt.

"I ducked instinctively and got out of the inning," Hoover said.

He spent all last season with the Reds, appearing in 69 games, and returned home this week as the Reds faced the Pirates in a three-game series at PNC Park. Hoover said he has family members attending each game of the series.

"It's a lot of fun," he said Tuesday before the series opener. "I get to play in front of my family and friends. It's just a blessing."

A 6-foot-3, 230-pound right-hander, Hoover finished his first full major league season with a 5-5 record and 2.86 ERA in 66 innings. He has struggled this season in 28 appearances, evidenced by his 5.23 ERA and 1-5 record. His ERA was 10.03 on May 10, but since he has given up just five earned runs in 19⅓ innings going into the game Wednesday.

Hoover endured similar struggles early last year, but doesn't think the two episodes are comparable.

"I feel like I've run into some bad luck this year," Hoover said. "I've gotten beat more this year than I have in the past. I'm hoping I can regain that kind of success this year."

A solid outing or two in front of his family would be a good place to start.

Sean Hammond: shammond@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1466 and Twitter @sean_hammond.


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