Maestri Adds to His Accolades

GENEVA, Ill. -- On January 6, 2006, the Cubs negotiated with Veserba, Italy, native Alex Maestri and signed him as a non-drafted free agent.

It looks as if the move is paying off. Maestri, who now plays for the Cubs' Single-A affiliate, the Peoria Chiefs, was among the group of 36 pitchers named to this year's Midwest League All-Star team.

"When they told me I was selected, I was very surprised," Maestri admitted at the All-Star Game at Kane County's Elfstrom Stadium on Tuesday.

"I wasn't expecting to be here and I had no idea I would be. I was thrilled and very excited to be a part of it," he said.

Heading into the All-Star break, Maestri had boasted a modest ERA of 3.38 in 42.2 innings of work. Although he typically comes out of the bullpen as a relief pitcher, Maestri has made the jump into the starting rotation at times this season, taking the mound to make four starts.

"If (Peoria manager Ryne) Sandberg wants me to start games, I'm OK with that," said Maestri. "I've begun doing that this year, but I'm also OK with coming out of the bullpen. Whatever we need."

Maestri also boasts a successful strikeout-to-walk ratio just shy of 7 to 1, fanning 35 batters on the year while only issuing six free passes.

"His ability to throw strikes has been the most important part of his game," said Cubs Minor League Pitching Coordinator Alan Dunn. "He can do this with all of his pitches, thus he's usually working ahead in the counts and then his slider has been a very solid put-away pitch.

"Also, he's gained some velocity in his fastball and when he's made mistakes, he's been able to get by with them," added Dunn.

With a fastball that ranges from 91-93 mph and a slider that he calls his "go-to pitch," Maestri says he reminds several Chiefs staff members of a former Cub star.

"A lot of people tell me I have the same mechanics and pitching characteristics as Mark Prior did," Maestri says with a slight blush. "I hope I can achieve some of the great things he did."

With his fastball and slider working well for Maestri most of the season, he has held opponents to a .222 average against. He has also shown the ability to close games, earning two saves in as many chances this season.

Maestri's team finished the first half of the season at 31-38, dropping nine of their last 11 games heading into the break. And with Maestri struggling at times, the all-star selection was a welcome accolade.

"This All-Star game is definitely the high point of my season," said Maestri, who pitched for Team Italy in the inaugural World Baseball Classic last year.

"I've had a few bad outings this season, but I try to learn from those, bounce back and make better pitches," he said.

When the All-Star game finally began Tuesday, Maestri had no idea when he would get into the game. The call from Western Division manager Jeff Smith came in the top of the sixth inning.

Maestri entered out of the bullpen – as he has most all year – and inherited a runner on first base. He struggled, allowing four consecutive hits and one earned run before striking out OF Travis Snider with the bases loaded.

Despite Maestri giving up the hits and the run plus a wild pitch, he realized the importance of why he was at the game.

"The All-Star games are fun and it's good to face all this great competition," he said.

At just 22 years of age, Maestri has plenty of time to improve. And after such accomplishments as being the first Italian-born pitcher to sign a professional baseball contract, he can now add 2007 Midwest League All-Star to his list.

"He still needs some fine-tuning in his game, but he's an extremely hard-worker and has a solid plan of what he wants to do," said Dunn.

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