Norrito's Still Around -- And Doing Well

When it comes to surprises in the Dodger system this year, easily the biggest is Joey Norrito. Come to think of it, it's more than that. It's a seismic shock that measures 4.0 in the Richter scale. It's shocking that (1) he's with Jacksonville at all (2) that he's in the starting rotation and (3) biggest of all he's winning.

Here's a guy that they seriously discussed releasing in the spring- a guy that was 24 years old (he'll be 25 in August) who only managed to reach low A in his third year and had a history of arm troubles. All those were knocks but not the biggest on him. No, easily a rap of boulder proportions was his fast ball- or the lack of it.

Joey's fast ball seems to stop and sniff the flowers on the way to the plate. With tropical force winds at his back, he barely reaches 85. And get this- it's his best pitch. His curve isn't all that wonderful and the thing that makes a changeup effective is just that- it's a major change from the heat you throw. But when you throw lukewarm stuff, a change is no change at all.

Usually a guy who throws marshmallows like that doesn't get drafted. However, Tommy Lasorda is a friend of Joey's dad so he was asked to have a scout check him out. Joey did have a gaudy record at Nova Southeastern University but , let's face it, as baseball powers go, Nova is to nearby Miami U. as Bhutan is to China when it comes to world powers.

Joey's given first name is Giussepe which caused some to be confused and think he was a full Italian from the streets of Milan or Napoli or some place over there. But, no, Joey's as American as any of us having been born in Sacramento who now lives outside Fort Lauderdale where his father owns a fine restaurant. (Ah, now you know how Tommy is acquainted with the family.)

Anyway, he was drafted down in the 48th round but soon had to have elbow surgery. He's been healthy for some time but still couldn't make a full-season club this spring so was left in the extended camp . It was here that his fortune changed for he came under the guidance of Casey Deskins - and Casey taught him a sinker.

He mastered it enough that when Scott Elbert went out at Jacksonville, Joey was sent there. Sort of, "Throw him in, see what happens. Can't hurt that much, I guess."

What happens is, says organizational pitching coordinator Marty Reed, is "He throws that sinker and keeps it in the strike zone. They have to swing at it and hit nothing but ground balls. I really think he's more effective at this level than down below because at Jacksonville, he's got infielders behind him who can make the plays."

"He knows what he's doing and knows how to spot the ball. What's more, he's a great kid that the other players all like. He has no pretensions, just loves to be there."

So, going into Thursday night's game, which he's scheduled to start, he's 6-1 with a 2.58 ERA. They get their hits against him now and then- the combined batting average for the opponents is .256. But get somebody on and watch out, the next one may hit into a double play.

He doesn't strike out many, of course. Only 39 in 83.2 innings thus far. But then he doesn't walk many, either- only 11 over that stretch. What Joey doesn't do is beat himself.

So, here's a pitcher who was, maybe, one vote away from being sent packing just a couple of months ago. He may not be from the environs of Rome but he's definitely living La Dolce Vita.