Pinango Turned Out to be 'Found Money'

Charlie Huff has been around the block a time or two during his 25 years in the Major Leagues, 11 of them with the Dodgers. He has been a pitching coach for both the Dodgers and Mets and is in his second year as pitching coach for Inland Empire.

Stopped for a brief moment on fields 5 and 6, behind the player's quarters where very few fans venture as the minor league players work toward the opening of the season in early April, he admitted it was too early to evaluate his charges.

"I haven't even seen all of them yet," he admitted. "I've seen some of them throw on the side but I haven't seen them all.

"But we've got a lot of good, young arms, many of which will be creeping up the levels." And then he added, "Especially at the lower levels."

Pressed for some names who have caught his eye, he smiled and said, "of course, Kershaw. He looked good last night.

"It's way too early. It will take a good 10 days for them to get their arms in shape -- and you don't want them to push things this early."

He said that to his knowledge, Bryan Akin (who was drilled in the leg by a line drive against Washington in Viera yesterday and had to be assisted off the field) suffered "only" a bruise.

Then, thinking for a moment, he did come up with a name, pointing out that Miguel Pinango had been throwing well.

"He's a solid pitcher, much better than some people think. I had him last year at Inland Empire before he moved to Las Vegas."

Perhaps to the average fan, the name Miguel Pinango is foreign to them, but not to the Dodgers and to the minor league aficionados who follow the youngsters closely.

For one thing, he is the answer to the trivia question, "Who wound up leading Las Vegas in victories in 2007?".

Pinango who came to the Dodgers as a free agent after the Mets let him walk. And although he'd won 10 games in AA, he only made the staff at Inland Empire out of spring training.

His record with the Sixty Sixers was 1-3, 4.61, hardly something to write home about.

When he was promoted to AAA Las Vegas, it seemed he would be a fillin for a brief time, then be returned to Inland Empire.

When pressed into service as a starter, however, he found a niche and, when it was all done, his name led all the 51s. He won 10 games while losing seven and had a 4.12 ERA, more than respectable for the tough environment in which he was employed.

Pinango's out pitch is a changeup, which might explain why scouts are less than delighted with him. But it's a nasty delivery the way he uses it for he pitches backwards, utilizing his fast ball to set up the change, not at all the normal procedure.

"He's not one-dimensional at all," Ken Howell, his pitching coach at Las Vegas and now the Dodgers' bullpen coach, insists and Pinango agrees.

"I'm focusing on beating the hitter on both sides of the plate," is the way he puts it.

So, he moves the ball around, in-out, up, down, throws his heater in the 86-88 range and, then pulls the string when the hitter gets out on his front foot. Even if it's hit, it's often just a weak grounder.

Pinango, just turned 25, is a native of Venezuela who's not overly large at 6-1, 160, another reason for scouts to overlook him. The Dodgers watched him in winter ball in 2006 before signing him.

But he now has eight years of pro ball and 2007 was his first in AAA. He could have become a free agent again but chose not to, still looking for that big league chance, and Howell believes, if given a break, he will make it.

Although he was a winner in AAA, there's probably still going to be some who aren't convinced.

But believe. It actually happened.