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Pineiro: Young Right-Hander Is 21-9 In Major League Career 'A Possible All-Star In Waiting' He's The Marlins' Third Catcher, But Castro Is Content -- For Now
Pineiro: Young Right-Hander Is 21-9 In Major League Career
By JIM COUR
March 13, 2003
PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) - Joel Pineiro realizes there are no guarantees in baseball.
While he's risen to near the top of Seattle's rotation, the careers of top Mariners' pitching prospects Ryan Anderson and Gil Meche have been stalled by injuries.
"It could have been me or anybody else," said Pineiro, a young right-hander who had a 14-7 record in his first full season with the Mariners last season.
"That's part of the game," he said of the shoulder woes that struck his two pitching peers. "I don't wish anybody bad."
Anderson hasn't pitched in two seasons after undergoing two major shoulder surgeries. Meche is still trying to recover from two major shoulder operations that cost him the 2001 season.
Pineiro, 24, has never been hurt. He's never come close to going on the disabled list.
Anderson, a left-hander, was Seattle's first-round draft pick in 1997, the year the Mariners selected Pineiro in the 12th round. Meche, a right-hander, was chosen in the first round by the Mariners in the 1996 draft.
During the winter, Pineiro and his wife, Shirley, bought a home in Puerto Rico, where he was born. He will earn $450,000 this season. Life is good for him and he feels exceedingly fortunate.
"When you're little, you say you'd like to play in the big leagues," he said. "So this is a dream come true for me. Now, I've got to hope that I'm here for a long time."
Pineiro started in the bullpen last season because the Mariners needed him there. On April 30 in Chicago, then-manager Lou Piniella gave him his first start. He stayed a starter the rest of the season and will begin this season as the Mariners' No. 3 starter behind right-hander Freddy Garcia, a two-time All-Star, and left-hander Jamie Moyer.
He finished with a 3.24 ERA, tops on the Mariners and the eighth-best in the American League, in 37 games and 28 starts.
In 62 career games, including 40 starts, with Seattle from 2000-2002, he has a 21-9 record and a 3.08 ERA.
Pineiro has four pitches: A fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. He relies primarily on his fastball, about 65 percent of the time. He doesn't have overwhelming velocity, topping out at 95 mph as a starter, but has outstanding accuracy.
In 194 1-3 innings last season, for example, he had 136 strikeouts and 54 walks. He had his first two complete games and his first shutout last season.
"He's not a guy who looks and thinks about the strikeout," pitching coach Bryan Price said. "He wants guys to hit the ball early in the count. It saves him pitches and keeps him in the ballgame longer."
The compact 6-foot-1, 200-pound Pineiro gets batters out more with his brain than his brawn.
"If he's throwing the ball 90 miles an hour or he's throwing it 95, the one thing he does is he locates it," Price said. "He changes his locations and his speeds. He has pitches that he can throw for a strike when he's behind in the count other than just his fastball."
Pineiro has no predictions for himself in 2003, when the Mariners will try to bounce back from their third-place finish in the AL West last season.
He's proud of the fact that he proved his durability last season by pitching in a career-high number of innings. He'd figures to easily hit 200 innings this season if he avoids injuries.
"To stay healthy," he said when asked about his goal this season. "I'm not a guy who says I gotta do this. I just want to pick up where I left off last year."
Price smiled when told of Pineiro's comments.
"He's a very mature person," Price said. "For a young guy like that without a lot of experience, I don't think he's the type of kid who would set himself up to fail by saying that to be successful he has to win 17 games or whatever."
'A Possible All-Star In Waiting'
He's The Marlins' Third Catcher, But Castro Is Content -- For Now
By KEVIN BAXTER
March 17, 2003
TEAM EFFORT: Marlins manager Jeff Torborg, right, rolls a ball under catcher Ramón Castro during a spring drill Feb. 18. "This right here is a family," Castro said.
PHOTO: JOE RIMKUS JR. / HERALD STAFF
JUPITER - Ramón Castro admits he was disappointed when he heard the Marlins had signed Iván Rodríguez just three weeks before spring training. On one hand, the team was getting a 10-time All-Star and a fellow Puerto Rican. But on the other, the signing would cost Castro playing time, just as the signing of Charles Johnson had done two years earlier.
''Like anyone in my place, I felt a little uncomfortable,'' said Castro, who has spent nine seasons chasing big-league experience. ``But I still have a job. Now I've accepted it.''
Accepted it? More like embraced it. Which is what manager Jeff Torborg expected.
''As a manager, sometimes you look down the bench and there's a role player who doesn't appreciate his role,'' Torborg said. ``Ray is never like that. He's ready. He's handled that position very well.''
He certainly hasn't spent the spring moping. He's batting .333 with two home runs, tied for second-best on the club, in 21 at-bats.
And it isn't as if Castro hasn't backed up Rodríguez before. They were teammates with Caguas of the Puerto Rican winter league, and Castro, who grew up about a mile away from Rodríguez in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, credits Pudge with teaching him his craft.
''We're like brothers,'' said Castro, who used to work out with Rodríguez in Puerto Rico. ``I'm going to learn a lot from him. The way he calls the game, the way he hits. We're going to be all right.''
But Castro and Rodríguez share more than a hometown and a uniform. When Castro was the 17th player selected in 1994 draft, he became Puerto Rico's first first-round pick, making him one of the island's mostly highly touted catching prospects since a 16-year-old Rodríguez signed with Texas six years earlier.
That's where the similarities end, however. For while Rodríguez has gone on to a Hall of Fame-worthy career, Castro, 27, struggled for years in the low minors and didn't arrive in the big leagues to stay until last season. Even then he was backing up the backup, batting just 101 times while Johnson and Mike Redmond handled the majority of the catching chores.
''Coming off the bench . . . is tough,'' Torborg said. ``I don't know how he handled what he did last year.''
Setting aside his ego didn't hurt.
''This is a team, like the word means,'' Castro said in Spanish. ``I know I have to play [to improve]. But if I can't, I'm going to support my team the best I can. When they give me a chance to play, I'm going to go all out. That's the game, man. You have to do what you have to do.''
Castro said Tim Raines, who led the Marlins with 14 pinch hits last season, showed him how to stay ready to play at moment's notice, even when going a week or more without an at-bat. The learning curve was steep in 2002, when Castro had two hits in 23 pinch-hit appearances.
''It's difficult,'' Castro said. ``Especially when you have to bat against the closer.''
But he hit .324 with six home runs in 74 at-bats as a catcher. No one appreciates that kind of productivity in a substitute role more than Torborg, who was a backup catcher for nine of his 10 seasons in the majors.
''He's just getting better. He's a possible All-Star in waiting,'' Torborg said. ``He's got beautiful hands. Got an outstanding arm. He's got big-time power.
``We need him.''
For now, that will have to do. But there's always next year. With Rodríguez signed for just one season, Castro might finally get his chance to shine in 2004 -- provided the team doesn't sign another prominent catcher in the offseason.
Not that anyone's thinking that far ahead just yet.
''Win. That's what we have to do. Come together and win,'' Castro said. ``This right here is a family. When you land on a team like this, that's united, it's very different.''