Has Hammes Found the Way?

In the 2002 draft, the very first that Logan White presided over for the Dodgers, the team had some prime picks- their own first and second rounders plus a supplemental at the end of the first and another second.

They did quite well with them too. Their first choice was James Loney, currently with L.A.. Their own second-rounder was Jonathan Broxton, who also has had a taste of the bigs and who's closing for Las Vegas as he readies for permanent employment up above. That supplemental choice was Greg Miller, slowed by shoulder woes but nonetheless , a standout prospect once more.

The other second -round choice, the pick they made between Miller and Broxton was Zach Hammes. So, whatever happened to him, anyway? While the others were getting closer to Dodger Stadium, there was Zach laboring far, far away from the limelight- in the wilderness of the South Atlantic League where his records of 7-11, 5.54; 5-8, 4.55 and 3-4, 4.81 tell you why he has fallen so far from grace.

It's not that Mitch Webster made a mistake about what Zach throws when he was scouting him back in Iowa. No, Hammes has quality in his pitches. It's just that he's never been able to get them to go where he wants them to; at least, not nearly often enough.

It should be noted that Hammes is a big guy- 6-6, 225 to be precise- and it is a notion held by many pitching coaches that such oversized individuals often have trouble getting all the parts to work in unison. So, they tooled his mechanics, then fine-tooled them again so he seemed to have that down. Still, the results weren't those desired.

Next, it was his grip for the ball seemed too often to fly away to parts unknown. Zach changed things around there, too. Along the way, it was further decided that his best chance seemed to be in relief, rather than a starting role.

"With pitchers, you need a lot of patience " observed organizational instructor Marty Reed. "It just takes more time with some than others. I think in Zach's case, he's coming along." It was an opinon that Hammes himself shares.

So it was that at last promoted to high A, Hammes made his debut for Vero Beach the other night - and did just what everybody hoped he would. For three innings, he pounded quality pitches into the strike zone, going after hitters in the required fashion. The opposition managed only a pair of harmless bloopers off him as he dominated them.

His second effort wasn't nearly as charming- one inning, two hits, one run. Not horrible, of course, just not as dominant. And that's been the problem for Zach has always had stretches where he seemed to have found the end of the tunnel only to plunge back into darkness the next time.

Along the way, he's made doubters out of many so this is a crucible of a season for him. If, indeed, he has found the path at last, he's capable enough to emerge once more . And , certainly, young enough for he'll be reach his 22nd birthday next month.

If that happens, the Dodgers would be four-for-four with those top picks and that in itself would be quite an achievement. It's an enviable record anyway. A successful Zach Hammes would make it dazzling.