Bob Brucato wasn't sure what to do when his pitching shoulder began hurting seven weeks ago.
"I was pitching against Columbia (S.C.) and I had thrown eight shutout innings," said Brucato, a right-hander with the Charleston (S.C.) Rainbows, the San Diego Padres' Class-A affiliate. "The next inning I felt something twinge in my shoulder. I didn't think much of it. I went ahead and finished the game and iced down my shoulder afterward."
So Brucato did what all aspiring minor leaguers do--he kept pitching.
It wasn't until five days later that Brucato, a former standout at Rancho Santiago College, realized the extent of his injury. He lasted three innings against South Atlantic League rival Sumter before the pain in his shoulder forced him to the sidelines. "I had the flu and dropped about eight pounds," he said. "I tried to pitch, but I had nothing. My body was so weak and I hurt my shoulder worse. I couldn't even pick up a ball for a couple days."
And he didn't pitch in a game for six weeks. Brucato strained the rotator cuff in his right shoulder. The ensuing weeks included hours of rehabilitation, ultrasound treatments and weight training.
"There's a lot of satisfaction in coming back and being ready to play," he said. "I know I have a job to do. In a case like George Brett's, he's still making a million dollars a year while he's injured. I'm not making that kind of money. I want to get back to playing so I can make that kind of money some day."
Brucato, 22, had a 3.04 earned-run average and a 3-2 record in his five starts before the injury.
He returned to the Rainbows' lineup last week as a middle reliever but still hasn't pitched.
He said his pitching arm "is back to about 95%."
"I'm going to make a couple of relief appearances and I'll be back in the starting rotation," he said.
Charleston Manager Jack Krol said Brucato is still learning the finer points of pitching.
"It's like he's still in kindergarten," Krol said. "He hasn't pitched many innings. If his arm is all right, he'll spend a couple years in Class A before moving up. And he can move up."
Brucato pitched and played outfield at Mission Viejo High School. He moved back to the outfield for two seasons at Rancho Santiago.
He settled into his pitching role in 1987 after transferring to Northwestern University. He was 6-3 with five saves in his only season there.
"We were playing a fall intrasquad game and coach needed a guy to throw," he said. "I threw one inning and he made me the short reliever. A Padres scout saw me throw one game against Ohio State and (the Padres) signed me as a pitcher."
The Padres chose Brucato in the sixth round of the 1988 draft and sent him to their rookie-league team in Spokane, Wash. He was switched to the starting rotation from short relief, and finished his first season with a 5-7 record and a 4.10 ERA.
"It was hard," he said. "I was used to being a short reliever in college, and then, all of a sudden, I'm a starter. It's hard to be a starter when you throw only two pitches (a fastball and a curve)."
Brucato, with the help of pitching coach Ron Ogelsby, has added a slow curve and a changeup to his pitching menu. His fastball continues to be his best weapon. He throws consistently in the upper-80 m.p.h. range.
"I have a good fastball and a hard slider-curve," he said. "Some people tell me I throw a slider, some tell me it's a curve."
Brucato plans to stay in baseball as long as he can.
"I'm going to finish the year and see what happens," he said. "I need a good spring training and let (the management) make the moves for me. If I can put the numbers up, they can't do anything but move me up."
Alan Bannister, former Kennedy High School standout, managed the Montreal Expos' double-A affiliate in Jacksonville, Fla., to a 36-33 record and a second-place finish in the first half of the Southern League season.
Last year, Bannister, in his first season as a manager, led the Expos' Class-A team in Rockford, Ill., to first place in the second half of the Midwest League's split season. The Expos lost in the playoffs to Kenosha, the first-half champion.
"We had a really good team back at Rockford," he said. "I found out at the end of the season that the Jacksonville job had opened up."
Bannister, who played every position but pitcher and catcher in his 12 years in the majors, said his experience as a player has helped his managing.
"I have the perspective from all those positions," he said. "That firsthand experience is helpful. What I'm trying to do is communicate that to the players."
Bannister, 37, wants to manage in the major leagues, but he said he's in no hurry.
"You just keep chugging along and reach your plateaus," he said.
Greg Pirkl of Los Alamitos underwent surgery on his right elbow in October and started at catcher Friday when the Bellingham (Wash.) Mariners opened their Northwest League season.
Pirkl, The Times' Orange County player of the year in 1988, hit .350 in the Seattle Mariners' extended spring training in Tempe, Ariz., after doctors retracted a nerve in his throwing elbow.
Bellingham Manager P.J. Carey said Pirkl will get plenty of playing time at catcher and designated hitter.
"He needs to work on his catching," Carey said. "He's only 18, so it will take him a while to learn the position."
Pirkl, selected in the second round of the 1988 draft by Seattle, also played with Bellingham last year.
"Most of my problems were off the field--learning to live on my own," he said. "Now they call me the veteran around here because I'm back for a second year."