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Isotopes Pitchers Searching for Groove

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque Rocked One Night After a Great Outing

This season as Albuquerque pitching coach could be like the military for Jim Slaton — the toughest job he’ll ever love.

One night after their best pitching performance of the young season, the Isotopes responded with their worst.

The Iowa Cubs pounded 20 hits and defeated the Isotopes 14-7 Tuesday night, evening their four-game series at one.

DEAN HANSON/JOURNAL Isotopes pitching coach Jim Slaton tries to settle starter Miguel Pinango during Tuesday night’s game. The Isotopes’ team earned-run average, already worst in the Pacific Coast League coming into Tuesday at 6.60, took another hit, or several, on its way to 7.83. Opening Night winner Isotope Miguel Pinango saw his own ERA go from splendid (1.80) to unsightly (12.46), which can happen when giving up 11 earned runs in 3⅔ innings of start number two.

Tuesday’s loss, Albuquerque’s fourth in six games, underscored an unusual situation to begin the season for Slaton, a 16-year major league veteran. So many of the Isotopes’ pitchers were in camp with the Dodgers until very late as hopefuls for a fifth starter’s job that was remarkably wide open for a reigning division championship club.

Several of the candidates had thrown just a few of the innings that came at a premium in the big league exhibition schedule as they auditioned for the last spots on Los Angeles’s staff. Therefore, several on the Isotopes staff would have to get ready on the fly.

“I don’t think the approach is going to change at all,” said Slaton, prior to Tuesday night’s contest. “We left spring training with a lot of our starters not stretched out like they could have been. (Shawn) Estes had only thrown three innings. (Eric) Stults was supposed to be with us and he got called up. (Giancarlo) Alvarado was going to be our long relief man. Then we had to start him in Stults’ spot.”

Pinango was one guy who had been “stretched out,” meaning his arm is in condition to go deeper into the game. He was counted on for 80-90 pitches on Tuesday and provide a bullpen full of relievers some of their own relief. He came out after 70.

So the Isotopes are having trouble getting outs in the first homestand. This has been seen before.

Only this staff is unique — veteran-laden, not just with big league pedigree, but big -league success. The stories of former all-stars like Estes and Eric Milton to World Series star Jeff Weaver to Tanyon Sturtze, who’s pitched for eight major-league teams, only vary slightly.

“For some of these guys, we’re looking for their arm strength to come back,” said Slaton.

A silver lining is that the notable comeback candidates  — guys who have won lots of games and made truckloads of money — haven’t been high maintenance despite their high profiles.

A day after his efficient three-inning Isotopes debut on Monday, Estes worked the bucket at batting practice — replenishing the supply of baseballs to return to the BP pitcher, as is customary for the previous game’s starter.

At game time, Milton was in civvies three rows behind the backstop, working the radar gun. Tonight he’ll chart pitches in prep for his Thursday start. These are chores major leaguers don’t perform, but guys in Triple-A do.

If any of them mind it, at least they’re keeping it on the down low. Slaton hopes the small gestures of compliance can be meaningful gestures of leadership.

“I haven’t heard one complaint so far, and all of them have been great,” said Slaton. “We talk about how to get better. It’s not development for them; it’s a place to stretch out their arms a little bit and see if something breaks in the big leagues. If not with this organization, then with some other organization. They understand why they are here and what they have to accomplish.”

Vs. Iowa, 6:35 p.m.
Radio: KNML-AM (610)
Promotion: Negro League trib
ute/Jackie Robinson night
Probable pitchers: Isotopes RH Giancarlo Alvarado (0-1, 9.64) vs. Cubs RH Jose Ascanio (0-0, 0.00) Tuesday: Iowa 1B Jake Fox
went 4-for-5 with two homers and five RBI in the Cubs’ 14-7 victory at Isotopes Park. Lost in the loss was Luis Maza’s 3-for-5, three-run performance; CF Xavier Paul had a bases-loaded triple and went 3-for-5. This and that: It’s the 62nd anniversary of Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier. Pacific Coast League president Branch Rickey, whose grandfather of the same name brought Robinson into the majors, will attend. A sign bearing Robinson’s No. 42 will be permanently attached to the outfield wall. And both teams will don flannel uniforms depicting numerous Negro League teams.