BOISE — Struggle is something Trey Lang knows all too well.
Struggling on the mound, however, is a fairly new concept for the Boise Hawks pitcher.
The hard-throwing righty has an 11.37 ERA in four starts in his first season beyond Rookie League. However, Lang is equipped with the will, both natural and earned, to not let a rough start drag him down.
"It's been tough, it's been disappointing, frustrating - but all I can do is try to make things better," Lang said. "I know you can't dwell on things, or they'll get to you and make it worse than it really is."
Lang pauses a bit when he thinks back to another rough start, the formative time when he shifted into his teenage years. Following his parents' divorce before he entered seventh grade, Lang said he "lived in 15 different places within a year" around Phoenix.
"Hotels, motels, apartments, houses, we'd bounce around. My dad had been the sole provider, but we mostly were with my mom, who didn't have a source of income," Lang said. "There would be times without electricity, running water or even food. She really tried her best, but it was tough."
Lang said he "tried to take a leadership role" and be a consistent force in his older brother and younger sister's lives. Admitting his grades initially mattered little, Lang was an honor roll student in high school. Not forgetting those in need, he was a frequent volunteer at a Mesa, Ariz. shelter.
"I knew if I wanted to get out of the struggle, I had to do something about it," Lang said.
Of course, he also had a gift to play baseball, hitting at least .356 in all four high school seasons, which took him to Northern Illinois, where he played one season, then to Gateway Community College back in Arizona.
Mainly an outfielder, Lang threw 7[0xb7] innings at Northern Illinois, the first 2 when he was put in with his team down 10-2.
"They said, 'Just throw fastballs, try to throw strikes,' " Lang said. "I think I started maybe 10 games as a senior in high school. I didn't really know what I had to do when I got into that bullpen."
From that unlikely beginning, Lang threw 31 innings his lone season at Gateway (with a 0.81 ERA), but also had 161 at-bats, hitting .261. His velocity, with a fastball touching the mid-90s, got him taken in the sixth round of the 2012 draft by the Chicago Cubs, and his summer last year in Rookie League marked the first time Lang became a true pitcher.
"He's still a puppy," Hawks manager Gary Van Tol said. "He's got a real strong arm, and we're focusing on one thing at a time, like controlling that fastball. He's dealing with a lot, but he doesn't fester over things, he's positive and will talk about it, which will help him get over some of those hurdles."
Lang, slated to start Thursday in Vancouver, B.C., has struck out 13 batters in his 12 innings with the Hawks, but also has issued 12 walks. Van Tol said Lang has a high ceiling with his velocity and strong breaking ball, a ceiling he will be able to approach when lessons sink in and there isn't a need to start pressing when a batter or two goes the wrong way.
"When I leave the game, it's upsetting, but I know I'm better than that," he said. "We all have bad outings, but what matters most is how you get out of it."
The adjustment for Lang to becoming a full-time pitcher, dealing with travel, pitching every five days and all the added off-field work, is what Van Tol calls "the 95 percent rule" - only 5 percent of a pitcher's time as a pro is on the mound. Van Tol says it isn't easy, but feels Lang is understanding the rule as part of his improvement.
"There are a lot of growing pains now, and it's humbling, but having them now, getting those out of the way, will be good in the long run," Van Tol said. "When that 5 percent goes better, the light will come on and he'll work even harder at the other 95, and it's going to become so much easier for him."
Dave Southorn, 377-6420; Twitter: @IDS_Southorn