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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | PRO BASEBALL

Reliever Garza Hopes for Shot as Left-Handed Complement

May 28, 2000|DAVE DESMOND

Chris Garza is taking things one batter at a time.

He doesn't have much of a choice.

The former Notre Dame High left-hander is being used as a situational relief pitcher, facing only one or two batters per outing for the New Britain Rock Cats, the Minnesota Twins' double-A Eastern League affiliate.

Garza, who primarily faces left-handed hitters, doesn't mind the role, which he has occupied since last season.

"I think it's good," he said. "I'm getting great opportunities to go left-on-left and am just hoping the Twins are noticing what I've been doing."

Garza has dominated since signing as Minnesota's 18th-round selection out of Nevada in 1996.

This season, he has struck out 34 in only 21 1/3 innings and is 2-2 with a 3.86 earned-run average in 21 appearances.

"My ERA isn't where I'd like it," said Garza, who entered the season with a 2.38 career ERA. "I could be pitching better. . . . I'm just trying to represent myself, my family and my friends."

Many of Garza's friends are disappearing.

A member of this region's vaunted Class of '93, he has seen former area standouts Ryan Stromsborg of Notre Dame, Casey Snow of Crespi and Dan Cey of El Camino Real, as well as several Twin farmhands, retire in recent weeks.

"They all made decisions that were right for them," Garza said. I support their decisions 100 percent. . . . I'm still doing my thing, just trying to get up there."

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Former pitchers from the region are playing key bullpen roles in the minor leagues.

Only four pitchers in professional baseball have more saves than Mike Rossiter of Burroughs High, who has a double A-best 13 saves for Milwaukee Brewer affiliate Huntsville.

Bob Scanlan, formerly of Harvard-Westlake, is tied for the triple-A lead in saves with 10, and has a 2.49 ERA.

Mike McMullen, from Glendale College, has a 1.03 ERA and one save for triple-A Fresno, the San Francisco Giants' club in the hitting-rich Pacific Coast League. McMullen has limited opponents to a .140 batting average.

Fresno teammate Rob Crabtree, from Cal State Northridge, has a 3.96 ERA in 16 appearances.

Angel Aragon, from Channel Islands High, is the closer at Mobile, the San Diego Padres' double-A team, as is Jay Gehrke, from Pepperdine, at Charleston-West Virginia, the Kansas City Royals' Class-A club.

Aragon leads Mobile with five saves. Gehrke leads Charleston with two.

Another former area player made his mark as a reliever on Friday night.

Bryan Warner of Glendale College, used mostly as a designated hitter by the Lansing Lugnuts, made his debut on the mound and struck out two in 1 1/3 no-hit innings for the Chicago Cubs' Class-A affiliate.

He was spelling a beleaguered bullpen in a 17-4 loss to Fort Wayne.

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Catcher Jon Schaeffer has been recalled to New Britain, where he will rejoin Garza.

Shaeffer, who played at Harvard-Westlake, was sent down to Class-A Fort Myers on May 7, when Eastern League rosters were cut from 25 to 24 players.

A spot opened up, when the Twins promoted Jeff Smith to triple-A Salt Lake.

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Stoic Jon Garland said last week he wasn't fazed by speculation he might be called up to pitch his first major league game for the Chicago White Sox last Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.

The Kennedy High product proved it after the club passed him over and recalled Kip Wells to start in place of Jim Parque, former Crescenta Valley left-hander who was serving a suspension.

On the same day Wells beat the Yankees, Garland defeated Richmond, 2-1, and improved to 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA, both bests in the triple-A International League.

With each start, the 20-year-old is gaining admirers.

Add Tommy John, a 26-year major league veteran and the color commentator for Charlotte radio broadcasts.

"Jon Garland can pitch," he said earlier this month. "When he came up here last year from double-A, he wasn't intimidated a lick. That's unheard of."

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For the second time in three weeks, Josh Towers has been selected International League pitcher of the week.

Towers, formerly of Hueneme High and Oxnard College, pitched a four-hitter for Baltimore Oriole affiliate Rochester in a 4-0 victory over Columbus.

Towers (5-2) is tied with Garland for the league lead in victories and is tied with Javier Delahoya, from Grant High, for sixth with a 3.03 ERA.

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The Texas-Louisiana, Northern and Western independent leagues opened their seasons last week.

The independents often provide unsigned players last chances at their careers, as well as opportunities to be seen and catch on with major league organizations.

Among the former players from the region to be traveling that route this season:

Former Agoura High outfielder Ed Campaniello (Lafayette Bullfrogs); former Saugus pitcher Bobby Cowan (Tri-City Posse); former Palmdale catcher Chris Paxton (Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs); former Cal State Northridge players Chad Thornhill (New Jersey Jackals), Greg Shepard (Elmira Pioneers) and Jose Miranda (Duluth-Superior Dukes); former JetHawk infielder Jason Regan (Allentown Ambassadors); former Pepperdine first baseman Dan Melendez (Feather River Mudcats); former Montclair Prep pitcher Tim Cain (Newark Bears).

The Frontier League, the last of the five independents to open, begins play on Wednesday.

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Several former area players and coaches are serving as coaches or managers in the minor leagues. Among them:

Steve Smith, who played at St. Genevieve, is the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers' triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis; former Antelope Valley College coach Dave Trembley manages Iowa, the Chicago Cubs' triple-A team.

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