Maestri Gives Starting a Whirl

Alex Maestri has a confession to make: he has a phobia of statistics. You won't find this Chicago Cubs pitching prospect sifting through his latest numbers and percentages against opposing hitters as he adapts to the starting rotation.

"I don't like to look at my stats too much," said Maestri. "When they're good, you start thinking about them and when they're bad, you start thinking about them.

"Stats kind of creep me out."

The stats have been in Maestri's favor thus far in his pro career. Courted by Cubs scout Bill Holmberg, Maestri, 22, became the first Italian pitcher ever to sign with a major league organization in January of 2006. He spent his first two years in Chicago's farm system as a relief pitcher, appearing in 66 games from the bullpen.

A season ago at Class-A Peoria, Maestri posted a 1.19 ERA and 12 saves in 44 relief appearances with opponents batting just .156 against him. But the right-hander had a brief tryout as a starter with Peoria, and this season he moved up to Class High-A Daytona, where he began the year in the starting rotation.

Through two starts, Maestri has a win and a 1.86 ERA with Daytona. He picked up his first career victory as a starter last Friday, tossing five shutout innings and allowing two hits in a game against Vero Beach, a Tampa Bay Rays affiliate.

"It's something that we started working on during spring training," Maestri said of how the move to the starting rotation came about. "[Mark] Riggins, the pitching coordinator, came to me and asked me what I thought about it and said they wanted me to try it again because (my starts) last year weren't very good.

"We agreed to try it for a few months and see how it works. I think it's going to be good for me because you have more time to work on your stuff and all three pitches."

For Maestri, that means fastball (both a two-and four-seamer), slider and changeup.

Pitching in relief meant that Maestri could get by with his fastball and slider (his out-pitch). But a starter ideally needs three pitches, and Maestri as such has been focusing on improving his off-speed pitch little by little.

"With starting, you have to mix all three pitches in," said Maestri. "With relieving, I was using my slider and fastball and wasn't using my change a lot. I'm still not throwing it a lot, my changeup, but I'm trying to mix it in as much as I can."

The overall transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation has been a bit awkward for Maestri at times, but he said he's confident that things will work out.

"I'm sure it's just something that's going to come with time," he said.

All the while, he's looking for his fastball to return to the same life as a year ago. While with Peoria, Maestri regularly sat in the low 90s and topped out at 94 mph.

Although it's early in 2008, Maestri says his velocity is down a few ticks.

"Right now, I'm around 88 to 91," Maestri said. "I'm not throwing as hard as last year when I was 90 to 94. I don't think I've reached 94 yet, but it's probably just me getting used to it (starting)."

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