SALEM, Ore. — Keith Bilodeau is playing for a former American League Manager of the Year and is adapting to his role as an end-of-the-game reliever.
Life is pretty good these days for the former University of Maine ace right-hander, who is pitching in Class A ball for the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes of the Northwest League.
The Volcanoes are managed by Tom Trebelhorn, who was the 1987 AL Manager of the Year with the Milwaukee Brewers. He also managed the Chicago Cubs.
After his breakthrough season at the University of Maine a year ago, in which he tied a school record for wins with 10 and posted a 3.04 ERA en route to America East and All-New England first-team honors, Bilodeau was chosen in the 24th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the San Francisco Giants.
The Bourne, Mass., native elected to pass up his senior year to sign with the Giants and produced a positive first impression last summer.
He appeared in eight games between the Giants’ Arizona (Rookie) League team and Salem-Keizer and didn’t allow a run. He gave up 10 hits in 14 innings while striking out 15 and walking four.
He began this season in Augusta (Ga.) with the South Atlantic League’s (Class A) GreenJackets but was sent down to Salem-Keizer last week.
He was 1-1 with an 8.87 ERA for the GreenJackets in 19 relief appearances.
“I was actually pitching really well in Augusta. I had a pretty good strikeout-to-walk (24-to-12) ratio. I gave up 11 of those  runs in two outings. I gave up two grand slams,” explained the 22-year-old Bilodeau. “The Giants told me they had two older guys that they wanted to give some rehab time to in A ball before moving them up to AA. And while they were getting their innings in, the Giants wanted me to go back to Salem and throw to live hitters.”
Trebelhorn called on him right away last weekend and Bilodeau responded with an inning of scoreless, hitless relief in a 3-2, 12-inning win over Boise and another 1⅔ innings of scoreless, hitless relief to earn a save in a 7-4 victory over Boise.
“Keith has a nice arm angle with three different pitches that he throws for strikes,” said Trebelhorn. “He plays his position well and has a nice [pick-off] throw to first.
“He did well at Augusta, really, but I think what we can do here is put him in some good situations where he can succeed. So far here, the opposing teams haven’t gotten many good swings against him and he’s looked very good.”
Pitching coach Jerry Cram said Bilodeau is going to be an important part of the bullpen.
“We are expecting some big things out of him,” said Cram. “We’re looking for him to really solidify the bullpen, which has been good for us in three game so far.”
Bilodeau has always been a short reliever in the minors and he “really likes” the role.
“It feels good that they have confidence in me to give me the ball in tight situations,” said Bilodeau, who thoroughly enjoys pitching for Trebelhorn.
“He’s a great manager. He’s really smart. He knows the game. I’ve learned a lot from being around him. He breaks the game down for you,” said Bilodeau. “He has a great passion for the game. You get a whole different outlook from a guy with major league experience.”
Bilodeau had been a starting pitcher for most of his life until he became a reliever in the Cape Cod League, one of the best leagues in the country for college-aged players.
“That prepared me for my role now,” said Bilodeau.
The 6-foot-5, 195-pound Bilodeau has a five-pitch repertoire.
He has a fastball in the 94-95 mph range, a cutter, a curve, a slider and a changeup.
“My fastball has been good and my cutter and curve have been real good pitches for me,” said Bilodeau. “My cutter is a lot like a slider.”
He said relieving is completely different than starting and he studies the game from the bullpen so he’ll be ready when he’s called upon.
“I’ll watch what the umpire is calling because when you come into a game, you don’t have time to figure out his strike zone,” explained Bilodeau. “I’ll also watch the hitters. One guy may look bad on a curveball low and away. Another may hit a high fastball hard. I’ll make a [mental] note.”
He enjoys pitching in Salem.
“It’s a small town and the people really love baseball. The atmosphere is fun. It’s cool,” said Bilodeau.
He isn’t sure how long he’ll be in Salem but he is going to enjoy his time there.
“I’m playing baseball and getting paid to play it. I couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Bilodeau. “It’s really a blessing. I don’t take anything for granted. I’m really happy with the way things have worked out.
“I know the Giants have a plan for me and I trust them,” added Bilodeau.