Wednesday, September 19, 2001
[ PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL ]
Thomas Ford likes to pitch in close games. He did that for two teams and in two different roles with success this year.
pros break through
their sophomore slumps
By Al Chase
"I do my best when the game is close. It's exciting," said the left-handed relief pitcher who graduated from Hawaii-Hilo.
Ford began the season with Delmarva (Salisbury, Md.) in the South Atlantic League, but was promoted a month later to the Baltimore Orioles' high Class A team at Frederick, Md., in the Carolina league.
He had a two-pronged role for the Keys.
"We only had one closer and I was used as a setup guy for him. But, if we needed a closer the next night, it was me," Ford said. "I feel real good about this season. I know I have to prove myself, but I think I opened some eyes."
He finished with a fine 3.21 earned run average, but would like to have one game back where he surrendered five earned runs in two-thirds of an inning.
"My ERA would be below 3.00 if I hadn't had that one bad outing," Ford said.
Three other Hawaii players in their second season of pro ball experienced mixed seasons.
Due to a teammate's injury, Brandon Chaves switched from shortstop to third base with the Hickory, N.C., Crawdads of the Class A South Atlantic League. He hadn't played the hot corner since his Hilo High School days.
The former UH-Hilo Vulcan wasn't happy with his offense. His batting average floated above and below the .200 mark, ending up at .199. He did show more line drive power in his second season with 12 doubles, four triples and a pair of homers, but will go to instructional league to work on his plate production.
Jason Kahi Kaanoi also is scheduled for instructional league. The Kamehameha graduate had arthroscopic surgery last October to fix the labrum in his right shoulder that was 87 percent torn.
After completing his rehabilitation program, he did work 44 innings, first with the Royals in the Gulf Coast League and, at season's end, with Spokane in the Northwest League, but it was tough to get started again.
"It was weird at first. I couldn't get the feel of my off-speed pitches. I'd have my curve ball for an outing, then it would disappear the next three outings," Kaanio said. "It was very frustrating."
The 5-foot-10 right-hander did say the velocity on his fastball was back to 93-94 miles an hour.
Kaanoi looks forward to getting more innings this fall and perhaps working on a new pitch. He feels the shoulder is about 90-95 percent. He continues to use the shoulder programs all Kansas City pitchers follow and does long toss to increase his strength.
Miles Luuloa moved up to the Class A Midwest League this year and was the starting second baseman for West Michigan (Comstock, Mich.), a Detroit Tigers farm team.
The Molokai High School graduate got off to a decent start as an every-day player. That status changed shortly after the June first-year player draft.
Detroit selected Southern University second baseman Michael Woods as the 32nd pick overall. After nine games in the New York-Penn League, Woods, who signed for $1.1 million, was promoted to West Michigan and installed as the regular second baseman.
"I don't want to blame anything, but he played every day and I was playing once in every seven games. I was out of rhythm and just couldn't get things going," said Luuloa.
"It was a disappointing season, but I just have too much love for the game to give up."
Tomorrow: A look at the independent league players.