Clint Nageotte: Dominant in Triple-A

Clint Nageotte entered the 2004 season considered by many as the top prospect in the Seattle Mariners organization. At Triple-A for the first time in his professional career, the 23-year-old right-handed pitcher has done nothing to ruin his high status. Jason A. Churchill talked to Nageotte after his third-straight gem on Tuesday night in Tacoma, and has this exclusive.

There's no need for Clint Nageotte to pay attention to any prospect rankings or outside opinion of his talents. What he's done on the field since joining the Seattle Mariners organization in 2000 has spoken for itself; the ratings are just a result of it.

Nageotte, a fifth-round draft choice in the 1999 June draft, entered 2004 fresh off three-consecutive strikeout titles at Wisconsin in 2001, San Bernardino in 2002 and San Antonio last year. His focus heading into this season at Triple-A Tacoma wasn't to keep his status as the M's top prospect, but to improve as a pitcher in any way he could. That meant using less pitches to get batters out, going deeper into ballgames, improving his changeup and staying away from too many base-on-balls.

Nageotte, a right-hander, is loaded with a pitching arsenal that includes a low to mid-90's fastball, an improving change up, and perhaps the best slider in the minors.

There are only two factors holding back the Rainiers' power pitcher from breaking through to the big leagues. The first - improving his overall command - is based on his tendency to go deep into the count too often, creating a few too many bases-on-balls. The second is simple; he needs to show continued success in the high minors. The uncontrollable variable, at least for now, is the logjam in the Mariners' starting rotation. But if Nageotte continues to progress in the same manner that he has in the past season and on in to this year, the M's will be forced to find a way to hand the baseball to the 23-year-old every fifth day.

Nageotte has taken the mound for the Rainiers three times this season, done well each time out, and has improved upon his previous outing in each of his last two.

In his first start of the season, Nageotte took the Rainiers into the sixth-inning with a 5-0 lead before yielding three earned runs and handing the ball to the bullpen. Relievers George Sherrill and Brad Rose went the rest of the way preserving a 13-4 Tacoma victory over the Tucson Sidewinders. It was good for Nageotte's first Triple-A win. The victorious Nageotte ended his first Triple-A start with four strikeouts and just one walk in 5.1 innings of work. It was a solid beginning, a stepping stone to bigger and better things to come.

Nageotte improved in his second start of the year, becoming the first Tacoma starter to take a game into the seventh inning, and was just an out away from sending the bullpen into the eighth frame with a 2-1 lead when Las Vegas 2B Joe Thurston singled on a 1-2 pitch. Relieved again by Sherrill, Nageotte left the game after allowing one earned run on six hits with five strikeouts over 6.2 innings. He didn't issue a single base-on-balls in the Rainiers 2-1 win, picking up his second win on the young season.

Nageotte's next scheduled start was pushed back a day by the mid-week shuffle to fit Mariners reliever Rafael Soriano into the rotation. Nageotte was well rested when he took the hill for his first home start of the season Tuesday night at Tacoma's Cheney Stadium.

It showed.

The slider specialist proved he was much more than that in his home debut against the Las Vegas 51's, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers, working hitters with a brutal combination of pitches en route to six no-hit innings. The 6-foot-3-inch, 215-pounder mixed two different fastballs with the occasional change-up and a wicked slider to baffle the entire Las Vegas lineup.

"I was throwing a two-seam fastball and a four-seam fastball." Nageotte said. "I threw a lot of sliders to them the last time I faced them. They kind of had that in the back of their minds so I could use my fastball a little bit more and use my slider when I really needed it."

Nageotte walked four batters and threw 96 pitches, 54 for strikes. He added six punch-outs to bring his team-leading total to 15, which ranks seventh in the PCL.

There was no thought of Nageotte returning to the mound for the seventh-inning after he had reached his pitch limit in the sixth.

"That's the first time in my career I've ever had to take a pitcher out with a no-hitter" said Rainiers manager Dan Rohn of Nageotte, who earned his third win of the year. "His slider was good and his fastball was good in location. He kept them off balance, a nice general use of his pitches."

It was Nageotte's second-straight start with veteran catcher Pat Borders, who is playing in his 23rd year in professional baseball.

"He and Pat worked really well together they were on the same page, it worked out good." Rohn said.

While other pitching prospects are making their own mark in the Mariners organization, Nageotte retains his title as the club's top minor league hurler by performing about as well as one could have wished. Not allowing a single base hit in six innings of a Pacific Coast League baseball game isn't a bad way to do business.

Notes: Tacoma outfielder Jamal Strong will likely sit out until the final game of the opening homestand Friday night. The speedster tweaked a hamstring last week in Las Vegas... Left-handed reliever George Sherrill ranks tenth in the PCL in strikeouts, tied with teammate Bobby Madritsch, despite pitching just 7.2 innings... Nageotte is tied for first in the league in wins with three and is second in innings pitched... Tacoma ranks fourth in hitting at .277 and second in home runs with 14... Rainier relievers have allowed just 1 of 18 inherited runners to score through 12 games and lead the league in saves with 5.

Up Next:
Aussie southpaw Travis Blackley (0-1, 9.31 ERA) looks for his first win of the year when he faces former Major Leaguer and Tacoma Tiger Tanyon Sturtze (1-0, 1.38 ERA) on Wednesday night.

Matt Thornton (0-1, 9.00 ERA) will seek his first victory of the season on Thursday night versus 51's righty Joel Hanrahan (1-0, 3.72 ERA).

Friday night's marquee match up pits Rainiers right-hander Cha Seung Baek (1-1, 2.92 ERA) against 51's righty Edwin Jackson (2-1, 5.87 ERA). Jackson is the most highly-regarded pitching prospect in the Dodgers' organization.

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