Pignatiello Continues Fight at Triple-A

Carmen Pignatiello says he wasn't too surprised when the Cubs told him he'd start the year in Double-A for the second season in a row. Now that he's gotten the promotion he was looking for, the Iowa left-hander is taking on not only a new level of hitters, but a new role as well.

The left-hander won nine games and posted a 4.56 ERA in 27 starts at West Tenn a year ago, but earned a promotion to Iowa earlier this season after sporting a 2.68 ERA and 77 strikeouts in just over 80 innings with the Diamond Jaxx.

Since joining the Triple-A club, Pignatiello (or "Piggy") has been used primarily out of the bullpen, which is where he thinks the organization plans to leave him for the time being.

"Things are going well," said Pignatiello, 0-2 with a 5.84 ERA in 11 appearances with Iowa. "I've started and I've come out of the bullpen, which as you know is new to me. The first couple of outings were a little rough. Learning how to pitch to the guys at this level is a new experience."

Pignatiello, originally a 20th round pick from high school in 2000, has appeared from the bullpen in all but three outings since joining Iowa in late June. He gave up a season-high six runs over four innings in his first career start at Triple-A (June 26 vs. Oklahoma). Afterward, his next start didn't come until nearly a month later on July 25. He appeared in the bullpen in six consecutive appearances in between starts, allowing three earned runs. With the team, he has been used as a spot starter, mop-up reliever and setup man, all within the span of just over a month.

The reshuffling to the bullpen has certainly been a big issue for Pignatiello to deal with this season—perhaps the biggest issue. Entering the year, he had not pitched in a single relief appearance since his days of extended spring training in 2001.

"This is really my first year of doing the whole bullpen thing," Pignatiello said. "But that's what they see me as—helping them out in the big leagues as a reliever. That's what I'm focused on at the moment. It's a big adjustment coming in from the bullpen not knowing what days you're going to pitch as opposed to starting."

Not that Pignatiello has any quarrels about adjusting to a new role, mind you.

"I'll do whatever I'm asked to do," he said. "I'll go out and eat up innings as a starter or get them some outs late in the game. I'm a guy that has never been on the DL. I'm always someone they can count on to give them innings. You have to be mentally involved in every game and see the hitters' weaknesses, so the pitching part is still the same. I think I'm going to finish the year in the bullpen. The more I can do to help this organization, the better."

While in Double-A to open the season, Pignatiello made 10 starts, going six innings or more in seven of those outings. His most memorable performance came on May 23 against Mobile at Pringles Park, when the Hammond, Ind., native had a no-hit bid through 8 2/3 innings. He allowed a seeing-eye single to Mobile's Ronnie Merrill for the BayBears' only hit to that point.

The Jaxx eventually won 1-0 on a Felix "Where Have You Gone?" Pie solo home run in the 10th inning. Pignatiello threw 114 pitches and pitched a full nine innings for the first time in his career.

"I had all my pitches working that night," he said. "Each inning kept going by and before I knew it, it was the ninth inning. After about five or six innings, you start to realize what's going on. I got two quick outs and I think I even had two strikes on him (Merrill). Then I threw my worst breaking ball of the night and he hit it through the infield. It was tough, but to have an opportunity like that is a lot of fun."

At 6'0", 180 pounds, Pignatiello is far from an overpowering presence (as he'll be the first to note). Without overly blazing stuff, he's had to rely heavily on pitch location and off-speed material in order to maintain success. While making a start on July 30 at Portland, he fanned six batters over six innings in what eventually became a 6-5 Iowa win. The six strikeouts gave Pignatiello over 100 total for the year, marking the fourth straight season in which he has reached triple digits in strikeouts.

It's also the fourth straight season in which he has thrown 100 or more innings.

"You have to really locate your pitches up here to be successful," Pignatiello said. "They exploit it here a lot more if you're not doing that. If you're not locating your fastball, it forces you to go to your strikeout pitch early. And if you go to it too early, you can't use it as an out-pitch."

When he's not at the park signing autographs or appearing in various community based programs, Pignatiello is content with just staying to himself. He says he doesn't have quite the social life as many athletes, and his idea of fun away from the diamond often includes a night of video games.

"I'd say I'm a private person," Pignatiello said. "I tend to keep to myself. I'm just a low-key guy by nature."

Perhaps it is that low-key persona which has kept Carmen Pignatiello off many top prospect lists, and turned him into one of the biggest sleeper prospects currently in the Cubs' farm system.

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