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BASEBALL PLUS

A Boy of Summer

Rookie Turnbow Runs Errands and Occasionally Out to Mound

September 24, 2000|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Derrick Turnbow could pass as an Angel clubhouse boy. That seemingly whisker-free face gives him the look.

His duties only enhance the image.

He has lugged to the bullpen the snack-pack--the bag of food that the pitchers munch on during games. He has been responsible for bringing bottled water for the relievers on flights . . . and woe-to-him if he runs out.

Basically, he's Gunga Din in a jock strap.

Every now and then, though, the phone rings in the bullpen and he is asked to pitch.

Turnbow doesn't have to duck into a telephone booth to change his persona on those rare occasions. He remains the same gangly 22-year-old. Snack time, though, is over.

Turnbow has been a kid in a candy store this season. Under normal circumstance, he would be enduring long bus rides on some Class-A byway and eating all the fast food that a $20 per diem can buy. Instead, he started for the Angels Saturday, going 3 2/3 innings in a 15-4 victory over Texas.

Turnbow has baseball's fine print to thank for spending the season in the major leagues. The Angels took him in the Rule 5 draft last December, when the Philadelphia Phillies decided not to put him on their 40-man roster. The catch was, he had to spend the entire season with the big-league team.

So Turnbow's "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" reads something like this: Today gave Troy Percival a Snickers bar; later struck out Alex Gonzalez.

"This has been a dream come true," Turnbow said. "I still can't believe it. This has been too much to take in at once. I'll have to let things soak in. It still hasn't hit me."

Ah, but Greg Vaughn has.

When Tampa Bay's Vaughn launched a mammoth home run on April 28, Turnbow's innocence was lost. While it may have been the 299th homer of Vaughn's career, it was the first given up by Turnbow, at least as a major league pitcher.

"It was an 0-2 pitch and I was trying to put it low and away and I left it up," Turnbow said. "I learned when you are trying to put an 0-2 low and away, you better put it low and away."

Turnbow gave up three runs in one-third of an inning against Tampa Bay. But who noticed in an 11-2 Angel loss?

There have been better days. Turnbow went four innings against the Yankees, in Yankee Stadium, on Aug. 4. He gave up only three hits, one a solo home run by David Justice, in front of 49,491 fans.

Turnbow's hometown, Franklin, Tenn., has 34,000 residents.

"That was the loudest crowd I have ever heard," Turnbow said. "It made my whole body go numb. It was Yankee Stadium. That's history."

So were the Angels, who lost, 9-1.

Still, Turnbow has turned a few heads. Asked about the youngster's arm, Percival said: "Lightning. There's still a lot in there that is untapped. The ball comes out of his hand real well. It reminds me how I used to throw four or five years ago."

For now, though, that lightning has been bottled. Turnbow has mostly mopped up here and there.

"Derrick's confidence level is up and he believes he can pitch in the big leagues," Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said. "That will make him closer to staying here when his real opportunity comes. He certainly falls under the umbrella of an impact pitcher. He needs innings."

Turnbow has pitched 36 2/3 innings in 23 games and has a 3.68 earned-run average. He didn't pitch the first 16 days of the season, then went 19 more days without work at one point and 14 more during another stretch.

"Maybe he hasn't pitched as much as we would have liked, but there has been a lot of growth," Angel General Manager Bill Stoneman said. "In spring training, he had the first locker inside the door. Every day, he would be sitting there on his stool. After a while, everyone who walked in would say 'Hi' to him. It kind of became the thing, to say 'Hi' to Derrick. I think he felt out of place because he hadn't pitched higher than [Class]-A ball. He's a different guy now."

Early in the season, there was some grumbling by a few veteran players about Turnbow taking up a spot on the roster, especially with the Angels in the pennant race.

"I don't think he's gotten in the way of our playoff chances," Scioscia said. "There is always a role for a guy to chew up innings and give the bullpen a rest."

Turnbow, a fifth-round pick out of Franklin High in 1997, has a 94-mph fastball, although until this season he had only tried it out on the Class-A level. He was 12-8 with a 3.35 ERA with Piedmont last season. In 161 innings, he struck out 149 batters . . . 149 minor league batters.

The Angels, though, had no choice but to keep Turnbow after paying $50,000 for him in the Rule 5, which allows teams to claim a player not protected on another organization's 40-man roster. By the rules of that draft, the Angels would have been able to assign Turnbow to the minors only if he cleared waivers.

"The one thing that we had to come to grips with, was it worth it to us to hang on to Derrick the entire season," Stoneman said. "In the final analysis, when we looked at what a 25th man would have done for us, it was not much more than what Derrick has done."

So Turnbow was allowed to be a boy of summer. Next season? Well, he better savor his time in the big leagues while he can.

"Once you've been here and had a taste, even a little bit, you don't want to ever leave," said Turnbow, who pitched in 46 minor league games, all as a starter, before this season. "Last year, I was traveling on a bus with seats that sort of reclined. Here, the travel, the hotel rooms, the meal money, the atmosphere, everything is unbelievable. This is where you want to be."

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