Rainiers Notebook: Thomas Happy In Baseball

TACOMA – When Jared Thomas was drafted in the 11th round by the Seattle Mariners in the 2002 First Year Player's Draft, the left-handed pitcher was preparing for a career as a doctor.

As the Michigan native weighed his options at the University of Oakland (MI) and with the Mariners organization, he decided that he'd give baseball a shot.

"I figured I'd give it five years or so," said Thomas. "In five years if I wasn't happy with where I was at, I'd go to med school."

In the midst of his fourth pro season, Thomas is maximizing his opportunities to prove to the Mariners that he is a big-league caliber pitcher.

In 19 games for the Rainiers this season, Thomas is 2-0 with a 3.73 ERA, serving in a middle relief role for Tacoma.

"I like it here," said Thomas of his first experience of Triple-A baseball. "Close to where I want to be and the team is a good bunch of guys. This is a good league."

The Pacific Coast League hasn't had much luck with Thomas, despite opponents hitting .290 off the southpaw. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound hurler is aggressive on the mound, even though he has never been known for his control.

"It's something I don't worry about and I'm usually able to get throught it," said Thomas. "I'm not trying to be too cute out there but I need to stay focused on throwing strikes early."

Thomas's baseball career is important to him but the physically imposing flame-thrower has other areas of his life that are ultimately the focus of his thoughts.

"If baseball isn't in my future, that's okay," said Thomas. "I'll go back to school and do what's best for my family. I just don't want to be that old and be starting school. So baseball will surely be given everything I have until I know it's not for me.

"It's great to be one step away," said Thomas. "It is something you can't help but think about. I'm happy to be where I am right now."

As the season rolls to the halfway point, Thomas sees an open door to Safeco Field in his future.

"It's there," he said. "I have my shot and I just need to make sure I take advantage of the opportunity."

Rainiers Rolling: Tacoma has won seven straight games and 17 of 24 to pull to within a half game of division-leading Salt Lake. The Rainiers are 18-11 at home, the second best home record in the PCL.

Leo and ‘Pez are Back: Third baseman Justin Leone and second baseman Jose Lopez are back in the lineup for Tacoma after spending time on the disabled list. Leone was activated on June 11 and was back in the starting lineup on June 14. Lopez was activated on June 8 and started the following night, going 1-for-3 at the plate.

Hunting for Playing Time: Hunter Brown hit over .300 while filling in for third baseman Justin Leone. With Leone back, Brown will serve as a backup corner infielder and pinch hitter, as well as being the team's emergency catcher. Brown, 25, is hitting .260 with three home runs and 22 RBI and in just 50 games played he leads the club in doubles with 15. How long will it take for Brown to re-earn the starting job at third base?

Strong is Ready: Center fielder Jamal Strong is hitting .342 since his return to the lineup and boasts a .422 on-base percentage over the same time span. Finally 100 percent healthy, Strong's leadoff skills are at its peak and ready to be challenged at the next level. After a slow start in April, Strong has been sensational at setting the table for Tacoma.

"We lowered his hand position to create a little bit more quickness in his stroke," said Rainiers hitting coach Terry Pollreisz. "Since then the ball is jumping off his bat a lot better. The holes that he had have been diminished."

Strong has been a step away from the big leagues for three years and received just a cup of coffee in 2003. Will this year be any different for the 26-year-old, and if so, is he ready?

"If he maintains his consistency," said Pollreisz. "When the opportunity arises if he takes that same consistency with him he'll be prepared do the things he needs to do."

Coming Up.... Next!: Tacoma will finish the current homestand on Thursday, June 16, before heading to Las Vegas for four games. The Rainiers will host the Tucson Sidewinders in a four-game set June 21-24. Felix Hernandez is scheduled to start the final game of that series on dollar deals night at Cheney Stadium. Game time is set for 7:05 PM.

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