Sewell, Ports' Staff Learning From Tomko

STOCKTON - Between a rehab appearance from Oakland A's ace Dallas Braden and a ballpark visit from two-time National League MVP Dale Murphy last week, veteran wisdom was flowing at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton.

Thirty-seven-year-old Brett Tomko added to the experience when he was moved out of the AZL A's team and onto the Stockton roster for an extended stay while rehabbing a right arm nerve injury he sustained while pitching for the A's last season.

More so than the 26-year-old Braden or the mere three-franchise Murphy, Tomko embodies veteran presence. He has pitched at the major league level for nine organizations. He is more than 14 years older than the average Ports pitcher and increases the average age of the 12-man pitching staff by more than a year from 23.25 to 24.31.

"I haven't been in A-ball in 15 years, so it's definitely been eye-opening to try to remember how it was when I first came through," he says.

"It's not somewhere I want to be too long, but it's definitely good for a couple weeks."

Last Friday, Tomko made his Ports debut, tossing five innings and allowing five runs on seven hits with three strikeouts but was not credited with a decision.

Twenty-four-year-old Lance Sewell (a 7th round selection in 2007) picked up the victory — his sixth — by throwing three scoreless frames in relief as the Ports upended the Visalia Rawhide 7-5. When Tomko last labored through A-ball, Sewell was a 9-year-old little leaguer.

Tomko's presence in the clubhouse has done wonders for the Ports. Since his arrival, Stockton has won eight of 11 and has moved into second place in the Cal League North. More than any other pitcher, however, Sewell is streaking.

Since Tomko joined the club in early July, Sewell has not surrendered a run and has watched his ERA fall more than one point to 2.11. During his winning appearance on Friday, Sewell boosted his scoreless streak to 16.1 innings, during which the lefty has given up only four hits.

The 6'3" San Diego State alum is arguably the organization's hottest pitcher right now. With his 6-0 record in 38.1 innings pitched to accompany his scoreless innings streak, which began on June 26, Sewell — like Tomko — is making a push for a midseason call-up.

"I'm just trying to take it outing by outing," he says.

"As a bullpen guy things can change so quickly. Right now I'm going through a little hot streak — everyone goes through them — so I'm just trying to stay even-keeled and just let everything ride out and take its course."

Last season in Stockton, Sewell posted pedestrian numbers (4.36 ERA/ 43.1 IP/ 40 H/ 21 ER/ 8 HR/ 27 BB/ 56 SO/ .244 BAA), but the pitcher says a new-found command of the strike-zone has helped him thrive in the hitter-friendly Cal League.

"Last year I was making it a little easier on the hitter, walking so many guys," Sewell says.

"When you dig yourself that hole you're just making it that much harder to succeed. Throwing strikes and pounding the zone has just made it a little easier."

Sewell's numbers don't lie. This season he has walked only 11 batters in 38.1 innings pitched and his '10 line is far from ordinary (2.11 ERA/ 38.1 IP/ 28 H/ 9 ER/ 5 HR/ 11 BB/ 34 SO/ .200 BAA). Another reason for his improvement, Sewell says, comes care of the interim veteran.

"One thing I've learned from Tomko is just try to keep your mind off baseball," Sewell says.

"When it's not game time, just try to have fun with the guys and get prepared for the game as it comes around. I try to pick his brain anyway I can — but I try to do it in a way where it's not like I'm kissing up to him."

While Tomko embraces the generation gap, he also shares Sewell's youthful desire to make his pitches and leave A-ball in his wake.

"It's been fun — they pick my brain, they pick on me. There have been some old man comments," Tomko says, "but they're a good bunch of guys and they ask a lot of questions. If I can help them in any way I can from mistakes I've made or successes I've had, then I want to do whatever they need me to do."

Right now, the Ports like him right where he is: Stockton.

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