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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

JetHawks Start a New Era by Giving Ball to Schultz

April 05, 2001|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LANCASTER — This affiliation makes more sense. The JetHawks play in dry heat. So do the Arizona Diamondbacks.

After five years of developing players for the Seattle Mariners, the JetHawks are the California League feeder for the Diamondbacks, who created a buzz in the High Desert by playing an exhibition game Monday against the minor league team.

There won't be any more Steve Finley or Matt Williams sightings in Lancaster, but several JetHawks might crack the Diamondbacks' lineup in a few years.

Or the starting rotation.

Mike Schultz, a 6-foot-7 right-hander from Cleveland High, will start tonight's opener against the San Jose Giants. Schultz, who played for three seasons at Loyola Marymount, is a second-round draft pick and on the Diamondback fast track.

He will enjoy pitching in front of family and friends, including an aunt and uncle who live in Palmdale, but he wants out before wearing out his welcome.

"My goal is to earn a promotion to double A," Schultz said. "That's realistic. At the same time, I'm going one pitch at a time."

Schultz and the other JetHawk starters will be on strict pitch counts, beginning at about 80 and increasing to 110. It will be a drastic change for Schultz, who routinely exceeded 100 pitches at Loyola.

"It changes your thinking, but it's necessary," he said. "I want to win 20 games with the Diamondbacks [eventually], not the JetHawks."

Doug Slaten, a left-hander who pitched at Pierce College last season and at Glendale in 1999, will be the No. 5 starter. Slaten, a 17th-round pick, allowed only one run in 9 1/3 innings in rookie league last summer.

The other starters will be Greg Valera, a 22-year-old converted shortstop who was 5-7 in low Class A last season; Andrew Good, a former top prospect coming off Tommy John surgery; and Daniel Castillo, a 25-year-old right-hander who played in the Mexican League last season after being released by the Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers.

Pitching Coach Mike Parrott served the same role last year with the Diamondbacks' California League team at High Desert. He likes the current staff better.

"We have better arms," Parrott said. "At High Desert we had to put guys there who weren't ready because we had a shortage of arms. This year we have more than enough good arms to go around. This is as good a staff of 12 as I've had in five years in this organization."

The lineup at the hitter-friendly Hangar should provide offense. Billy Martin, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound corner infielder who hit 25 home runs at Class-A South Bend, Ind., last season, will bat cleanup.

Batting third will be right fielder Brian Gordon, who hit .311 with 12 homers and 19 stolen bases at High Desert. More power should come from first baseman Ryan Jones, a 26-year-old journeyman who will bat fifth.

Infielders include Luis Santos, who signed as a nondrafted free agent in 1997 out of Golden West College in Huntington Beach. He moved from rookie league to low Class A to High Desert last season and went three for three at Lancaster in his first California League game.

"I'm glad to be so close to home," Santos said. "My grandpa watched me play every day as a little kid. Now he can watch me play again."

Switch-hitting catcher J.D. Closser, a fifth-round pick in 1998, is considered a prospect. And he likes the prospect of putting up numbers at The Hanger.

"The ball carries everywhere in this park," Closser said. "It's great in games, but not in batting practice because you are trying to lift everything."

Closser, of course, must consider the short dimension and windy conditions when he is calling pitches too.

"This place teaches pitchers to work down in the zone," he said. "If they elevate, there's a good chance the ball will be hit out."

No one will complain about the summer Lancaster heat, however. Moving up means stops at double-A El Paso and triple-A Tucson. And the ultimate goal is Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix.

"Get used it," Closser said. "That's all you can do."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

LANCASTER JETHAWKS

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