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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | PRO BASEBALL

Zito's Pro Travels May Soon Include Stay in Oakland

May 14, 2000|DAVE DESMOND

Barry Zito might be on the short track to the major leagues, but the former Pierce College left-hander has endured the minor leagues' longest road trip.

Zito, the Oakland Athletics' 1999 first-round selection out of USC, and his Sacramento River Cat teammates conclude a 40-day, 37-game odyssey today with a Pacific Coast League game at Tacoma.

Sacramento, Oakland's triple-A affiliate, was sent packing to open the season after completion of its new ballpark was delayed.

Raley Field is scheduled to open on Monday. The River Cats have spent 11 of the 40 days in Salt Lake City, not exactly a hot spot for a squad of 20-somethings that includes pitcher Bryan Corey, a former Thousand Oaks High and Pierce standout.

"It was weird," said Zito, who turned 22 on Saturday. "We spent so much time in Salt Lake, I actually started liking the town."

Zito, the ninth overall pick last June, shouldn't get too attached to any minor league locale.

Ranked No. 41 by Baseball America in a preseason list of the top 100 prospects, Zito might soon find himself in the majors.

Last week, he was selected the PCL's pitcher of the week after posting a 2-0 record with 12 strikeouts and not allowing an earned run in 12 innings.

Armed with a 90-mph fastball and a wicked curve, Zito has dominated.

He had 97 strikeouts in 68 innings spread over three pro levels last season.

"He's got a great breaking ball," Sacramento first baseman Paul Sorrento, a veteran of 11 major league seasons, told the Sacramento Bee. "For a young kid, he's got good command of his pitches and looks poised out there."

Less than a year into his professional career, Zito needs only a little refinement and perhaps an improved changeup to reach the majors.

On Friday night, Zito (3-3) suffered a few growing pains, allowing seven hits and four walks in six innings of a 3-1 loss to Tacoma, the Seattle Mariners' affiliate.

In 38 1/3 innings, Zito has 27 strikeouts, 23 walks and a 4.23 ERA, better than average for the offense-dominated PCL. Twelve of the league's 16 teams have ERAs of 4.36 or higher.

Oakland is not hesitant to call up young pitchers, having promoted five from Sacramento in the last month, including 1998 first-round pick Mark Mulder.

Zito's promotion might be just down the road.

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Players from the region swept the triple-A pitcher of the week awards last week.

Former Hueneme right-hander Josh Towers was honored by the International League after allowing 10 hits and one run in 15 1/3 innings for Rochester, the Baltimore Orioles' affiliate.

Towers, a 15th-round selection in 1996, has 35 strikeouts and six walks in a league-leading 46 1/3 innings.

The overwhelming strikeout-to-walk ratio is nothing new for Towers, who has 411 career strikeouts and 70 walks.

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Former Thousand Oaks infielder Steve Sisco made his major-league debut with the Atlanta Braves on May 6 after being promoted from triple-A Richmond.

In his first week, the versatile Sisco pinch-hit, pinch-ran and played third base, second base and the outfield.

His first major-league hit came in dramatic fashion. His pinch-hit two-run home run in the 10th inning helped the Braves defeat Philadelphia, 3-2, Saturday.

While Sisco moved up, three former Valley-region players moved down.

Pitcher Andrew Lorraine of the Chicago Cubs, formerly of Hart, and catcher Bobby Hughes of the Cleveland Indians, who played at Notre Dame, were designated for assignment last week.

Former Harvard-Westlake standout Jon Schaeffer was sent by the Minnesota Twins from double-A New Britain to Class-A Fort Myers.

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Terrmel Sledge, a former Kennedy and Cal State Northridge outfielder, was the Class-A California League's player of the week after batting .552 with three home runs and nine runs batted in for the JetHawks.

Sledge, who was batting .217 when he was called up from the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers on April 15, is second in the league with a .384 average.

Teammate Juan Silvestre leads the Cal League with 44 RBIs, 14 more than his closest pursuer, and is on a pro baseball-leading pace to drive in 171 runs in a 140-game season.

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Ryan Hankins, a Simi Valley graduate, reached base in 20 consecutive games from April 9 through May 3 for the Winston-Salem Warthogs, the Chicago White Sox's affiliate in the Class-A Carolina League.

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Former JetHawk pitcher Allan Westfall was selected the double-A Eastern League's pitcher of the week last week.

The Mariners' 18th-round selection in 1996 allowed one hit in seven shutout innings for Seattle affiliate New Haven against Norwich. He is 4-1 with a 1.98 ERA.

Westfall was on the disabled list throughout the 1999 season.

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It wasn't good news for New Haven's Brendan Kingman, among the most popular JetHawks in 1998, when he batted .340.

Kingman, a first baseman who figured to play for host Australia at the Olympics in September, broke the humus bone in his left arm while attempting to tag a Trenton runner on April 25.

He underwent surgery the next day and is expected to miss the rest of the season.

The New Haven Ravens are collecting get well wishes for Kingman on their Web site, www.ravens.com.

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Kevin O'Malley, formerly of Harvard-Westlake and the son of former Dodger owner Peter O'Malley, has hit a snag as general manager of the Class-A Mudville Nine of the California League.

O'Malley, who helped change the Milwaukee Brewer affiliate's name from the Stockton Ports, reportedly had hoped to build a new stadium on Banner Island, where legend says poet Ernest Thayer wrote Casey at the Bat.

An environmental impact report might delay the project until 2003.

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Kevin Appier, former Antelope Valley High and Antelope Valley College right-hander, came off the disabled list and started for Oakland on Saturday.

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