John Koronka: Zoned In

<B>DES MOINES, Iowa</B> - Iowa pitcher John Koronka has no idea what the Chicago Cubs' record is two weeks into the season. It's not that Koronka isn't interested in the major league team; the left-hander says he is just completely zoned in at the Triple-A level.

"I don't talk about that (the Major League) stuff too much," Koronka said. "I just try and keep my focus on where I'm currently at. You do notice things here and there, but I am mainly focused on the team we have here."

The I-Cubs have struggled to a 3-8 start to begin Pacific Coast League play this season. Koronka had a rough debut on April 11 at Round Rock, where he lasted only four-plus innings and yielded seven runs on seven hits in Iowa's 9-6 defeat. This past Saturday night, however, Koronka evened up his record with an impressive 5.2-inning outing versus Albuquerque. He surrendered two runs on six hits and struck out seven while adding a pair of hits at the plate.

"Overall, it was a good game for us," Koronka said. "Everything clicked and it was something we definitely needed. Somebody had to do something right and everything turned out really great. Hopefully, we can keep that up for the rest of this home stand and the rest of the season."

Koronka continues to work on his two top pitches: a low-90's fastball and a changeup. Over the past month, though, he has begun to experiment with a slider that big league pitching coach Larry Rothschild worked with him on back in Spring Training.

"I'm hoping it will be my third pitch," Koronka said. "I don't want to throw it too much, however. It is going to help me out against lefties and it will be more of a 'show' pitch."

Spring Training was certainly a surreal adventure for the 24-year-old Koronka, originally a prospect in the Cincinnati Reds' farm system. The Clearwater, Fla. native made four starts with the Cubs' major league squad this spring. Some of the outings went better than others.

"Early on, I was just trying to do too much," Koronka said. "The first start I was just taking it all in. It was pretty neat, though, and it's something you always think about as a kid. It was neat to see guys like Nomar (Garciaparra), Aramis Ramirez and Corey Patterson, who I have been watching for the past couple of years. Later on in the spring, I was happy with my performance. Hopefully, I can just keep it going for the rest of the season."

This is Koronka's second season at Iowa. Last year he led the team with 12 wins and posted a 4.34 ERA in 29 starts. He is currently the team's third starter and one of two lefties in the starting rotation alongside Renyel Pinto. He also knows he is only 300-plus miles away from the Windy City.

"The Cubs' five starters are pretty solid," Koronka said. "If they need somebody, getting called up would be great."

Koronka has learned how to approach being a minor league prospect. After being drafted out of high school by the Reds in 1998, he is now a part of his third organization. Koronka had a brief stint with the Texas Rangers in 2002-03 and eventually became a Cub when the Reds traded him for LHP Phil Norton in late August of 2003. The "team first" ideas - that everything will eventually take care of itself - was ingrained into Koronka's memory throughout the whole transition.

"I have progressed a lot by learning how to pitch, knowing what to throw in certain situations, and understanding the game in general," Koronka said. "It might have taken a year or two to figure out that the team comes first. I have learned a lot from a lot of people and it has helped me out a good deal. I think younger guys may have trouble with that at first."

Only good things will come Koronka's way if he is able to eclipse his 2004 record. While personal goals have certainly taken a back seat for him in comparison to Iowa's slow start, Saturday night's winning effort may have been the start of a turnaround for Koronka and the rest of the Iowa pitching staff.

Scott Sabin is the contributing editor of Inside The Ivy. Write to Scott at scott@insidetheivy.com.


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