As recently as two years ago, Steve Schmoll figured that at this point in his life, he would be making his way through medical school.

Instead, the 24-year-old from Rockville is working his way through the Los Angeles Dodgers' minor league farm system.

In his first full professional season, Schmoll has made what many in baseball consider the most difficult leap in the minors. On July 30, he was called up from Class A Vero Beach to Jacksonville, the Dodgers' Class AA affiliate.

"He's got great work habits," Jacksonville Manager Dino Ebel said. "He's on a mission."

It is a mission that almost never got started. Schmoll graduated from Magruder in 1998 without All-Met honors nor much interest from college scouts. He attempted to walk on at Maryland in his freshman year as a catcher -- his high school position -- but was cut. The following year he made the team as a pitcher, but through three seasons, he was 6-17, and his GPA in biological resources engineering (3.66) was far more impressive than his ERA (6.73).

But late in his redshirt junior season, while playing catch, his coach, Terry Rupp, noticed him messing around with a sidearm delivery.

"He said, 'Can you pitch like that?' " Schmoll recalled. "I said, 'I can try.' And so I took what he said to heart and practiced in the offseason."

In his senior season, thanks in large part to the sidearm delivery he employed for about half his pitches, Schmoll exploded. As both a closer and starter, he broke the Maryland single-season and career strikeout records and led the Atlantic Coast Conference in strikeouts. He also attracted scouts and signed with the Dodgers before the draft (an option given to fifth-year players).

This year, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound right-hander posted a 1.88 ERA, 57 strikeouts and 17 walks in 621/3 innings with Vero Beach. And heading into last night's game, he had yet to give up a run in 71/3 innings as Jacksonville's set-up man.

So for now at least, medical school can wait.