Friday, October 8, 1999
learned in surprise
The pitcher from Hilo becameBy Al Chase
more used to relief work,
but he may return to
starting next year
Onan Masaoka probably had no idea what to expect when he made the Los Angeles Dodgers' opening day roster following the team's final exhibition game last April.
The Hilo native had realized his lifetime dream and expectations were flying high around Dodgerland.
Masaoka pitched one inning in the season opener and went on to make 53 more relief appearances during a season that saw the Dodgers' postseason hopes turn sour in June and July.
Back home briefly before heading for a month's work in the Arizona Fall League, the 6-foot, 188-pound left-hander still hasn't sat back and reflected on his first major-league season.
"I think it was a lot more exciting. I wanted to be there. I had fun and learned a lot," Masaoka said.
"I learned a lot about the different hitters. That was amazing. It's mostly in my head. I know what they did when I went out the last time. I'm not saying that I won't throw the same pitch the next time, but I might throw it in a different spot."
He credits fellow Dodger pitchers and catcher Todd Hundley with helping him deal with new situations and offering advice on batters he hadn't faced before.
Masaoka did not have a defined role, such as setup man or closer.
"It was kind of whenever. That was the thing. I never knew when I was going in. I just had to be ready at any time," he said.
He found satisfaction in the way he handled a bad outing by coming back and making good pitches the next time out.
"You play every single day so you can't dwell on what happened yesterday," said Masaoka, who turns 22 later this month.
He felt comfortable with his fastball, but says he needs to work more on his secondary pitches, the curve ball and change-up.
Masaoka is going to the Arizona Fall League at the suggestion of Dodger manager Davey Johnson and he will work as a starting pitcher.
Primarily a starter during his four-year climb through the Dodgers' farm system, he first experienced relief pitching full-time during the final month of the 1998 season.
One note on the Internet recently indicated the Dodgers were thinking of using Masaoka as the fifth starting pitcher next year.
"I haven't heard anything about that," Masaoka said.
As for the Dodgers' season that did not live up to expectations, was full of turmoil and was labled a disaster by Los Angeles writers, Masaoka survived by focusing on what he had to do.
"You can't dwell on a bad season. Every person has to pull and do their job. You can't do someone else's job," he said. "I just tried to do my best. Talent wise, I know we can compete because we did against some teams. It's just about pulling all together."
ONAN MASAOKA'S CAREER STATISTICSHeight: 6-0. Weight: 188. Throws: Left. Bats: Right.
Year, Team, League G IP W L Pct. H ER BB SO ERA 1995-Yakima, Northwest 15 49° 2 4 .333 28 20 47 75 3.65 1996-Savannah, So. Atlantic 13 65 2 5 .286 55 31 35 80 4.29 1997-Vero Beach, Florida State 28 148 6 8 .429 113 64 55 132 3.87 1998-San Antonio, Texas 27 110 6 6 .500 114 65 63 94 5.32 1999-Los Angeles, National 54 66 2 4 .333 55 32 47 61 4.32 Minor League totals 83 373 16 23 .410 310 180 200 381 4.34 Major League totals 54 66 2 4 .333 55 32 47 61 4.32
NotesDrafted in the third round, regular phase, by the Los Angeles Dodgers, June 1, 1995. Signed June 4, 1995.
Listed as a Top 10 prospect (fifth overall, top pitcher) in the Los Angeles Dodgers' organization in Baseball America's 1998 Almanac.
Named the Texas League Pitcher of the Week (May 18-24, 1998). Won both starts, allowing no earned runs in 15 innings with 19 strikeouts.
Statistical notesTied with three others for the Northwest League lead in wild pitches (12) and finished seventh in the Northwest League in strikeouts (75) in 1995.
Finished fifth in strikeouts (132) in the Florida State League and led Vero Beach in innings pitched (148) in 1997.
Had 3 saves for Yakima in 1995, 1 for Vero Beach in 1997, 1 for San Antonio in 1998, and 1 for Los Angeles in 1999.