The Tacoma Rainiers' opening road trip of the 2004 season sent them to the warm, dry climates of Tucson, Ariz. and Las Vegas, Nevada, two cities where hitters love to hit and pitchers hate to pitch.
After finishing the road trip with four-straight wins to move to 5-3 on the year, the Rainiers' large disparity in their hitting and pitching numbers told the whole story. Offensively, they batted .308 (95-308) as a team and carried a .362 OBP. Unbelievable numbers, indeed. On the mound, however, the pitching staff stumbled its way to a 5.47 ERA.
One pitcher who was able to avoid falling on hard times was RHP Clint Nageotte, Seattle's top overall prospect in the farm system and the owner of what has often been referred to as the "best slider in the minors." Nageotte is the only Rainier starter to pitch into the seventh inning thus far, and is 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA. Against Las Vegas, he retired 14-straight batters at one point en route to his second victory of the year.
Nageotte, sitting alone in the Rainiers' locker room after the team's home opener Friday night, took some time to talk about the start of the season and his goals for the rest of the year.
"Early on in the year I pretty much just really want to go out and throw strikes," said Nageotte. "That's really what I want to work on – my command.
"I know it's early in the season so a lot of the hitters aren't really locked in, so I want to go right at them and be able to throw strikes."
So far, he's done a good job following through with his wishes. He's struck out nine and walked only one.
When it comes to the future, Nageotte is well aware of what he needs to improve on in order to better his chances of becoming the future Mariners' staff ace.
"I'm working on that third pitch," said Nageotte. "My goal this season is to be able to use that third pitch, my changeup, in any situation. I used it a lot in the spring and I haven't used it much since. I've used it early in counts but not really in crucial situations.
"I want to have the confidence to be able to throw it at any time, in any situation, but at this point I don't think I have that confidence yet. Rather than always going hard, hard, I want to use my changeup a lot more this year."
At the same time, Nageotte says he's tried to emphasize going later into games rather than trying to overpower every hitter and getting an early high pitch count. He's led his respective league in strikeouts in each of the last three seasons, and could again achieve the feat in 2004 while with Tacoma.
"I really want to emphasize getting more innings pitched," he said. "I think the strikeouts will come, but I don't want to just be a strikeout pitcher. I want to be a front of the rotation pitcher and to do that I need to go deeper into games."
In Tacoma for the first time in his professional career, Nageotte will have the chance to refine his skills in a city he says he already enjoys.
"I've always been a fan of the Northwest, so I like it. I like the mountains and the weather right now. I grew up in Cleveland and it was similar to the way it is here right now."
Looper Returns: Right-handed reliever Aaron Looper was back at Tacoma on Friday night, 13 days after he was traded by Seattle to Los Angeles in the Jolbert Cabrera trade on April 3. Looper, the son of the Mariners' Director of Player & Scouting Development Benny Looper, was reacquired on April 12 for Double-A pitcher Glenn Bott. He was added to the Mariners' 40-man roster, and optioned to Triple-A.
Strong Sidelined: Outfielder Jamal Strong (15-29 with 7 RBI) strained his right hamstring in Wednesday night's win over Las Vegas, and missed Friday's opener. He is expected to miss 3-5 days.
Notes: The Rainiers' home opener marked the 45th consecutive season of Pacific Coast League baseball in Tacoma, the longest continuous run of any team currently in the league... Through Thursday, the Rainiers were tied with Nashville for the Pacific Coast League lead in home runs with 13… Tacoma is 6-0 when scoring the first run of the game, and 0-3 when the opponent scores first.
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