TRENTON, N.J. – For a big-league hopeful, reaching Triple-A is the last hurdle.

Clear it, and you’ve made it. But, as thousands of players can attest, that final jump can be the hardest.

Portland right-handed reliever Jason Urquidez knows it well after spending the last four seasons in Triple-A.

Despite his numbers — 14-10 with a 5.11 ERA in 1811/3 innings with 164 strikeouts and 69 walks — he didn’t get demoted by the Arizona Diamondbacks, his parent club.

Nor promoted.

“Of course it’s tough when you hear your name is getting thrown around to get called up and it doesn’t happen,” Urquidez said after pitching 32/3 scoreless innings in the Sea Dogs’ 3-0 loss to Trenton on Monday.

“I try not to dwell on it but I can’t lie because it’s in the back of my mind, what can I do, what did I do wrong. Then I go into a negative snowball.”

As much as he tried, Urquidez couldn’t keep thoughts of the big leagues away and it caused him to lose touch with his special connection to baseball.

Cast aside, Urquidez latched on with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the independent Atlantic League at the start of this season and, without the pressure and hope of a call-up, rediscovered his love for the game. At Lancaster, he was 2-0 with a 2.30 ERA in 152/3 innings.

“I know it’s not affiliated baseball where you’re trying to move up. All you’re trying to do is win and I want to bring that back to what I’m about,” he said. “Earlier in my career I got caught up in the moves.

“It was a blessing in disguise going to play independent ball because it reminded me why I play the game, because it’s fun and I know that I’m good and know that I can succeed.”

Feeling more comfortable in his fifth game with the Sea Dogs, Urquidez pitched with the confidence he gained in Lancaster on Monday and limited the Eastern League’s most powerful offense to one hit while striking out four and walking none to shave his ERA more than two runs, from 7.27 to 5.11, with the Sea Dogs.

“I came in with a game plan today of just trying to keep these guys off balance,” he said.

“They’re a good hitting team and I’ve seen them have success early in the count with fastballs. We’ve played them a bunch in the last couple of weeks since I’ve been here, and I got to see some things and make some adjustments off of that.”

Urquidez was the second of three relievers used in a bullpen game after Manager Kevin Boles decided to rest announced starter Stolmy Pimentel.

The combination of starter Caleb Clay, Urquidez and Chorye Spoone limited Trenton to three runs on seven hits. But it wasn’t nearly enough as David Phelps and Danny Farquhar retired the final 25 Sea Dogs to combine on a 1-hitter.

Phelps, who is 1-3 with a 3.05 ERA in 15 games with the Yankees this season, was getting some work after not being needed in the Boston series over the weekend. He struck out 11 with a walk and a hit in 62/3 innings.

Boles commended Urquidez on his professionalism since joining Portland June 25. Urquidez was thrilled when Boston phoned.

“I was elated when I got a call from my (Lancaster) manager. He said, ‘Hey Boston has a job for you in Double-A, are you interested? I was like, ‘Do you even have to ask that question?”‘


NOTES: Jackie Bradley Jr.’s hitting streak officially ended at eight games on Sunday after the official scorer changed his infield hit to an error. Bradley was 0 for 4 on Monday.