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Pineiro Fits In Perfectly For 1st-Place Mariners…Injury Ends Escape From Minors For Ex-Wrangler Kiko Calero

Pineiro Fits In Perfectly For 1st-Place Mariners

By Daniel Mitchell | Special to the Sentinel

June 28, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 


Solid rotation.


SEATTLE -- On one end of the Seattle Mariners' pitching spectrum is Freddy Garcia, the de facto ace who has righted himself of late. On the other is Gil Meche, the No. 5 starter whose right arm already has helped him to 10 wins.

Joel Pineiro falls squarely in the middle -- not a bad spot for the former Colonial High standout.

In his second full season in the majors, Pineiro, 24, has established himself as the No. 3 starter in one of the American League's best -- if not the best -- rotations.

Pineiro was 7-5 with a 3.77 ERA entering Friday night's game and was one of four Mariners starters -- the fourth being Jamie Moyer -- with at least seven wins. The other member of the quintet is Ryan Franklin, who's 6-5 with a 3.18 ERA.

"Being more consistent is all you can work on," Pineiro said. "Cutting down the walks, working the [strike] zone in and out, up and down, getting hitters to hit your pitch, not their pitch.

"If you're around the zone, you trust your defense, which we've got a good one, and you give your team a chance to win the ballgame, you should be all right."

Seattle's starters have combined to go 42-24, and Garcia's solid 4.28 ERA is the highest among the starters. That deep starting rotation is a major reason the Mariners are 51-26 -- the best record in the majors -- and six games ahead of Oakland in the American League West.

Despite his youth, Pineiro already has become part of the scenery in Seattle, home of big-league lifers such as Moyer, Edgar Martinez and Bret Boone.

"I wouldn't say I'm a veteran guy, but I feel like I know all this a lot more, a lot better," said Pineiro, a 6-foot-1 right-hander. "I've got the confidence of the guys that I'm one of the regular five starters, not just a guy who's just coming out there seeing how he does. I want to be a guy they can send out there every five days and the team trusts you to go out there and win."

Pineiro has done that at every level, starting in high school.

As a Colonial senior, Pineiro was named Orange County's Athlete of the Year in 1996. After high school, Pineiro moved on to Edison Community College in Fort Myers, where he was named Florida's top juco pitcher in 1997. When the Mariners came calling in the 12th round of that June's draft, Pineiro was on his way to the pros.

A multi-pitch arsenal, featuring a four-seam fastball that Mariners pitching coach Bryan Price calls his "bread and butter," helped Pineiro move rapidly through the minor-league ranks. He did stints in Peoria, Ill., Everett, Wash., New Haven, Conn., and even made a one-start stop in Orlando on his way to Seattle.

"It went by pretty quick," said Pineiro, whose fastball tops out in the low 90s. "I had great coaching staffs in the minor leagues and great teammates who would push you to get to where you're going. It's definitely a great organization."

Pineiro's major-league debut came Aug. 8, 2000, against the Chicago White Sox, and he went on to pitch in eight games for Seattle that season. He began 2001 at Class AAA Tacoma before being called up July 5.

Bouncing between the bullpen and the starting rotation, Pineiro posted strong '01 numbers (6-2, 2.03 ERA) and retired the first 51 right-handed batters he faced, the longest such streak since the stat was first kept in 1975.

Pineiro moved into the Mariners' rotation in '02, going 14-7 with a 3.24 ERA in 28 starts. The numbers earned him Seattle's Pitcher of the Year honors from the city's Baseball Writers Association of America chapter.

Pineiro has found a home in Seattle, which he calls "a great baseball town." Still, it's a long way from Rio Padres, Puerto Rico, where Pineiro lived before moving to Orlando as a grade-schooler, and where he now resides in the off-season with his wife, Shirley.

Pineiro's father, Alberto, played pro baseball in Puerto Rico, and Joel said the game is "all in the family."

"For me, it was breakfast, lunch, dinner and baseball -- that's all I wanted to do," he said. "Obviously, you've got to go through school and get all that out of the way, but baseball was on my mind the whole time."

Injury Ends Escape From Minors For Ex-Wrangler Kiko Calero Was Enjoying A Solid Season With St. Louis Until Saturday's Game In KC.


June 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Wichita Eagle. All rights reserved. 

Kiko Calero was feeling lousy Sunday.

Not so much from the pain in his right knee, but from the pain in his heart.

St. Louis' 28-year-old rookie reliever had waited so long to get his shot in the big leagues and was making the most of it. Then it all came crashing to a halt in the fifth inning of the Cardinals' 13-9 victory Saturday night over Kansas City.

"This really, really hurts," the former Wrangler said. "I am very sad."

It came so suddenly, so final.

One batter, one hit. One twist of a planted cleat, and Calero's season was over all too soon. A ruptured patella tendon. A freak injury for a baseball player. It's the sort of thing that usually only happens to football players.

Sunday, Calero sat at his locker with crutches laying across his lap and his right leg in a splint. Around him, his Cardinal teammates were preparing for another day of work. His replacement, outfielder Kerry Robinson, had already arrived from Triple-A Memphis.

Calero can't wait until the surgeon begins to repair the knee today in St. Louis.

"Maybe I will feel better about things after the surgery," he said. "At least I will be doing something to go forward. I will do whatever it takes to get back here."

It was ironic that Calero's injury came against the Royals. For years, he labored in their minor league system, performing well season after season in Wichita.

He probably logged more time in Wichita than any pitcher in the history of the city's minor leagues. He had become a staple for the Wranglers between 1997 and last season, winning 10 or more games as a starter three times, and he was a Texas League All-Star in '97. Two seasons ago he was 14-5 -- second-most wins in the league -- with a 3.33 ERA.

But Calero never received a September call-up to Kansas City. Not even one of those non-roster invites to spring training that clubs often do to encourage their prospects. He didn't even get a promotion to Triple-A Omaha last year, when he was 7-7 with a 3.44 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 125 2/3 innings.

Word is the Royals didn't think the slightly built 6-foot-1 Calero threw hard enough for a right-hander to give him a real future in the big leagues.

During spring training of 2002, Calero was traded to Philadelphia. He was returned to the Royals two days later because the Phillies claimed he was damaged goods due to a sore shoulder.

After last season, the Royals cut him loose, and St. Louis signed him as a minor league free agent. Off-season surgery to Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen juggled the bullpen and left a spot open that Calero earned in spring training.

By the time Isringhausen returned two weeks ago, Calero had established himself as a reliever and had one spot start. In 38 1/3 innings of work, he had a 2.82 ERA with 51 strikeouts.

"He proved he belonged," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "Losing him now... this really hurts."

That much Calero understands.

"They tell me I'll be OK for next year," he said. "I appreciate the opportunity St. Louis has given me, and I will work hard on the rehab."

And he's dead set on not returning to his home in Puerto Rico while he recovers.

"I want to be here and be a part of this," Calero said. "I want to be around my teammates. If I go to Puerto Rico, I feel bad."

Or worse.

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