Rainiers Notebook - The Chaves Effect

Talk to any Mariners minor league pitcher who has worked with pitching coach Rafael Chaves, and they will tell you how much he's meant to their career. InsidethePark's Jason A. Churchill talked to several pitchers at Tacoma to learn a little more about their beloved pitching coach.

The Tacoma Rainiers have spent much of the 2004 season sitting at or near the top of the Pacific Coast League standings thanks to a balanced roster of solid offensive weapons, a stellar bullpen, and five starters who can flat out deal.

Throughout the first seven weeks of the year, the Rainiers' starting rotation has been as good as any in the league, and better than any Tacoma rotation in recent memory. Led by left-hander Bobby Madritsch and his 2.59 ERA, the starters have handed leads to the bullpen in all but two of the Rainiers' 25 victories, and have flashed signs of being dominant as a whole.

The five-man rotation of Madritsch, Clint Nageotte, Travis Blackley, Matt Thornton, and Cha Seung Baek had a string of 24 straight starts going at least five innings, 17 of those 24 going into the sixth and beyond. All five were members of last year's Texas League Champion San Antonio Missions, serving as the entire starting rotation.

Aptly named the "En Fuego Five", the Missions title-winning pitching staff were sent north to the Pacific Coast League to further their development. Other than the same pitchers joining each other on the staff, there was one other constant factor coming into the 2004 campaign - pitching coach Rafael Chaves.

Chaves is starting his seventh season as a pitching coach in the organization after 12 years as a minor league pitcher with four different clubs. Chaves' influence on the M's minor league pitching cannot be undervalued. He has been with left-hander Matt Thornton for all or part of five seasons now, and the 27-year-old credits Chaves with a lot of his success, including coming back from injury.

"He has been great," said Thornton. "I had him as far back as 2000 in Wisconsin. He has always been great to work with. He works well with everybody, and really gets you to focus on what you need to work on."

Left-hander Travis Blackley, 21, and right-hander Clint Nageotte, 23, are both enjoying their second season with Chaves and wouldn't have it any other way.

"Chavy is great." Blackley said. "He is my favorite pitching coach I have ever had. All of the coaches in the Mariners system have been great and I've learned from all of them. They have all had something to offer me. Chavy, last year, just took it to another level and really molded me into (knowing) I should have a game plan and not to just go out there with just my stuff and no plan."

Nageotte echoes Blackley's feelings and also speaks highly of Chaves' work ethic.

"We talk essentially every day about pitching, about myself and getting better." Said Nageotte. "He knows me as good as anybody so it's great to have him. As knowledgeable as he is, it's giving me a real advantage.

"He loves to work and we call him the gnat because he is always in you ear wanting to do something, which is a good thing to have."

When asked if Chaves was his favorite pitching coach, Nageotte didn't need to think about it. "Oh without a doubt," he said.

The Week Ahead:
The Rainiers head down to Las Vegas for a four-game series with the 51's after winning just two of six home games on the recent home stand. Tacoma will return on June 1 for an eight-game stand and will take on the Las Vegas 51's for the final time this season, and face the Sacramento Rivercats for the first of four series' this season.

Tacoma leaves town with a 25-17 record, still tops in the PCL. The pitching staff, even short two starters in Madritsch and Baek, as well as being banged up in the bullpen, continues to fight and give the offense a chance to win games. The Rainiers rank third in the league in ERA at 4.01 and are seventh in runs scored.

Quote of the Week:
Right-hander Clint Nageotte on allowing eight runs in the fourth-inning at Memphis on May 17:
"I gave up the snowman in the fourth-inning, which is really hard to do when you think about it. That inning right there pretty much showed me that when you have base runners on you have to limit the snowball effect or they can hit you pretty hard. Literally. That snowball can build up to one big snowman."
For those who don't quite get the "snowman" analogy, the number 8 looks like a snowman, especially while sitting awkwardly on a digital scoreboard.

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