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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

TRANSFER of POWER

Well-Traveled Slaten Finds Right Pitch at Pierce

March 30, 2000|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WOODLAND HILLS — Doug Slaten had a wish list.

He wanted a change in school scenery.

Done. Slaten transferred from Glendale College to Pierce.

He wanted a shorter drive to school from his home in Venice.

Done. Either on the 405 freeway or through Topanga Canyon.

He wanted to have a healthy baseball season.

Done. In a big way.

The 6-foot-5 left-hander, back at full strength after having knee and arm problems last year, is Pierce's ace and among the top pitchers in the Western State Conference.

"He might be the best pitcher in the conference," Pierce Coach Bob Lofrano said. "I can't think of anybody else I've seen or heard about who is as good."

Before dismissing Lofrano's assessment as grossly biased, consider the numbers.

In 54 innings, Slaten has 54 strikeouts and 16 walks for a three-to-one ratio, good at any level but particularly impressive in the pitching-starved junior college ranks.

He is 5-2 with a 3.66 earned-run average, which was considerably better before stumbling through a five-run third inning in a 25-12 victory at Ventura on Tuesday. Slaten struck out 10, walked two and gave up eight runs in six innings.

"They were up like 7-0 already, and I think he lost his concentration and the umpire started to shrink the strike zone," Ventura Coach Don Adams said.

Not to worry. Slaten should bounce back, like he has this season after last year's roller coaster.

The trouble started after Slaten had knee surgery following his senior year at Venice High. A piece of bone had come lose in the left knee from wear and tear and, perhaps, from growing too fast.

"I grew like seven or eight inches from the seventh grade to the eighth grade," Slaten said. "I went from 5-7 to 6-3."

Slaten missed most of the 1998 fall workouts at El Camino College, transferred to Glendale and wasn't in playing shape when the season started. He pitched well one game, bad the next, and finished 2-4 for the WSC Southern Division-champion Vaqueros.

"My velocity in some games was topping out at 81, 82 mph," Slaten said. "My arm, my leg were in pain from not having thrown. I was getting tendinitis in my shoulder. Basically, I was a wreck."

Still, he was selected in June as a draft-and-follow by the Baltimore Orioles, who wanted to retain the rights to Slaten. The Orioles have until 10 days before the June draft to sign Slaten or perhaps lose him to another club.

Slaten chose not to sign with the Orioles and left Glendale, for reasons other than baseball.

"The commute, the general atmosphere at the school were getting to me," Slaten said. "I wasn't comfortable there. . . . I just wanted a change."

And a change-up.

Adding to his already slick repertoire, Slaten has developed a circle change to complement his sharp curveball and sinking fastball, making it even more difficult for batters to anticipate his pitches.

He throws any pitch on any count and struck out three Ventura batters on 3-and-2 curveballs, two of them looking.

Slaten also is generally economical. In a 6-5 loss to Glendale last week, his only defeat in five WSC decisions, Slaten had 12 strikeouts in 85 pitches over 7 2/3 innings.

"He really comes after the batter," Lofrano said.

The whole package is peaking the interest of four-year schools, which are lining up in case Slaten doesn't turn pro in the summer. He recently visited UC Santa Barbara and is mulling over other offers.

"It's going to be a tough decision," Slaten said. "I've gotten all my classes out of the way to make sure I can transfer, if that's the way I go.

"It's kind of nice because I'm under the control of the Orioles and I don't have the scouts calling me.

"Right now, I'm just having fun."

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