Pignatiello Loves New Role

At 23 years old and at Double-A for the majority of a third straight season, Carmen Pignatiello is quite familiar with his surroundings. After years of starting, the left-hander is making a nice go of things from the bullpen this season, where he's appeared in 30-plus games and has a 2.73 ERA.

To label Pignatiello, a 20th-round draft pick in 2000, exclusively as a reliever would not be entirely accurate.

Up until last season, the southpaw had been used solely as a starter since his first crack at a full-season roster with Class A Lansing in 2002. He made 27 starts that year, just as he did the following two seasons as he moved up the ladder to Daytona in 2003, and West Tenn in 2004.

Between West Tenn and Triple-A Iowa a season ago, though, Pignatiello began to see activity from the bullpen for the first time since his early days as a teenager with the Mesa Cubs of the Arizona League and short-season Class Low-A Boise.

And despite struggling in 22 appearances, including five starts, in his first taste of Triple-A action a year ago, it was Iowa where "Piggy" expected to begin 2006. Instead, he started the year at West Tenn and found himself in a relief role.

"Going into Spring Training, my goal was to make the Triple-A squad," said Pignatiello, 3-1 with 64 strikeouts to 17 walks in 52 2/3 innings this season.

"But I didn't have a good Spring Training and obviously I found myself back here and in the bullpen. Maybe it was a good idea to get back here and adjust to a new role. I had a couple of bad outings early on, but since then I've been throwing the ball pretty well."

Truer words are hard to come by. After allowing a combined eight runs in back-to-back appearances in late April and early May, Pignatiello has settled down with only two earned runs allowed since May 19. He has won his last three decisions and has boasted a sparkling 1.00 ERA over his last 14 appearances from the bullpen.

Pignatiello spent a good portion of June away from the team on the bereavement list tending to personal matters, and hasn't missed a beat since returning later that month.

Late last month, Pignatiello got the promotion back to Iowa that he'd been hoping for. His stint with the I-Cubs didn't last long, however, as Pignatiello was sent back to West Tenn after only two outings.

"I expected to stay up there a little longer than I did, but some things happened and everyone up there is pitching well," Pignatiello said. "I can't complain. I don't deserve to be up there over those guys."

With little to no time spent on the disabled list in his career, Pignatiello could be said to have a rubber arm. His role this season has been in relief, and the Hammond, Ind., native has no quarrels whatsoever.

"It's a role I could feel," Pigantiello says. "They've been wanting me to concentrate on coming in and getting lefties out with my breaking ball. I'm not a hard thrower, so I have to pitch backward and start guys off with my breaking ball. My main goal is to go out and get left-handers out."

Pignatiello's fastball sits between 88-90 mph on most occassions. He features the curveball as his out-pitch, and West Tenn pitching coach Mike Anderson says it's one of the best pitches he's seen all year.

"He's more of a curveball specialist, and his curveball is as good as anybody in the game," Anderson notes. "He throws it hard and it has good command. He's really taken off with the pitch and has had good success with it.

"He's been tough on lefties, especially in the second half of the season and really longer than that. I think this is a good role for him and that he realizes there's more opportunities for him a little later on down the road. He's taken to it and there's a lot of value in that."

With the Cubs' Double-A team stacked with pitching prospects all year long, including recent Chicago additions Carlos Marmol and Juan Mateo, Pignatiello agrees with Anderson that the bullpen may be the quickest route to join his former teammates at Wrigley.

"There's just more spots open there," he says. "It's tough to break into the starting rotation up there at the moment. Sometimes guys get hurt and you get a better opportunity that way.

"I'm enjoying the bullpen a lot. I'm involved in more games and you get to pitch in tighter situations. You show how good you are when you get somebody out of a jam with runners on second and third. I like it and I look forward to pitching and being involved in more of the wins."

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