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MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Saarloos Begins Major Transitions, On and Off the Field

June 16, 2002|BEN BOLCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kirk Saarloos is about to complete a significant double play. Today, the former Cal State Fullerton right-hander gets married in Seattle. On Tuesday, he makes his major league debut for the Houston Astros in Milwaukee.

A whirlwind couple of days to be sure. But that's par for the course for Saarloos, who has sprinted through the minor leagues after being taken in the third round of the 2001 amateur draft.

After working out of the bullpen to begin his college and professional careers, Saarloos has emerged as a top-notch starter this season. He won his 10th straight decision Tuesday for double-A Round Rock (Texas), yielding two runs--one earned--while striking out six in eight innings in a 5-2 victory over Shreveport.

The outing ended Saarloos' consecutive scoreless innings streak at 48 1/3--the longest streak in the minors since 1995--but earned him a promotion to triple-A New Orleans. Or so he thought.

Plans changed Thursday when Houston pitcher Shane Reynolds had surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his lower back and learned he would sit out the rest of the season. Saarloos was tabbed to replace Reynolds after going 10-1 with a 1.40 earned-run average in 13 starts for Round Rock.

Saarloos, 23, will join a "Twentysomething" Astro rotation that includes Wade Miller, 25; Roy Oswalt, 24; Tim Redding, 24, and Carlos Hernandez, 22. Hernandez, like Saarloos, is a rookie, and Oswalt and Redding are in their first full seasons in the majors.

Astro fans may be surprised to learn that Saarloos' fastball tops out in the mid-80s. He gets outs by locating his fastball, changing speeds and keeping hitters off balance.

In other news from around the nation:

* Doctors treating Tampa Bay Devil Ray prospect Nick Bierbrodt's gunshot wounds say the former Long Beach Millikan standout was lucky to survive an altercation last week outside a restaurant in Charleston, S.C.

The two bullets missed Bierbrodt's aorta by millimeters and failed to damage any major organs or blood vessels. The Charleston RiverDog pitcher was released from the hospital Saturday.

"Given the possibilities, [the bullets] missed a lot of important structures that could have killed him or put him in a not-even-reach-the-hospital situation," David Cole, chief of general surgery at the Medical University of South Carolina, told Tampa Bay-area reporters. "If he was hit in the aorta, his chances of survival would have been significantly less."

Bierbrodt was shot June 7 while sitting in a taxicab in the drive-through line at a fast-food restaurant. Witnesses said a young man on a bicycle shot Bierbrodt after a verbal exchange about the bicyclist's rap music. No arrest has been made.

Bierbrodt, 24, is expected to resume his career as early as next season.

* Former Burbank High and College of the Canyons shortstop Freddy Sanchez extended his hitting streak to 24 games, the longest in the minors this season, by going two for three Wednesday for Trenton (N.J.) of the double-A Eastern League. Sanchez, 24, is batting .336 with a league-leading 82 hits in his third pro season. He took consecutive nights off Thursday and Friday.

Angels' System

Joe Saunders, selected 12th overall in last week's draft, stopped by Edison Field on Monday to take in the Angels' interleague game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The 20-year-old left-hander from Virginia Tech received a warm ovation when he was shown on the giant television screen in right field during an interview with Fox Sports Net, but he later said he preferred to stay out of the spotlight.

"It's been really nerve-racking," said Saunders, who signed for $1.825 million. "I'm one of the shy types. But this is the fun part. I'll get to the work a little later."

Saunders is expected to report this weekend to the Angels' rookie-level club in Provo, Utah, where he will attempt to add velocity to two-seam and four-seam fastballs that have been clocked as high as 94 mph. Saunders, 9-2 this season with a 2.86 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 97 2/3 innings, also throws a changeup and a slider.

* Mike Kibler, the "Mr. Shucks" mascot for the Angels' Class A affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has resigned in the wake of a May 31 altercation with Kernel Manager Todd Claus.

After a victory over South Bend that completed a four-game sweep, Kibler, dressed as the corncob mascot, danced onto the field waving a broom. Claus, offended that the mascot was exhibiting poor sportsmanship, demanded that Kibler hand over the broom. When Kibler refused, Claus reportedly put him in a headlock, snatched the broom and snapped it in half.

Kibler resigned two days later, telling the Cedar Rapids Gazette that he was already thinking about leaving because of time constraints with his regular job and his family. The following day, Kibler and Claus exchanged apologies.

* Francisco Rodriguez struck out a combined six of seven batters he faced in saving one-run wins on consecutive nights earlier this week for double-A Arkansas.

Dodgers' System

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