Friday, September 7, 2001
[ PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL ]
Onan Masaoka looks to the future and hopes the change of scenery he experienced in late July is a positive move for his career.
Masaoka: New clime, same climb
By Al Chase
He was traded by the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Chicago White Sox on July 26 with two other players and cash for starting right-hander James Baldwin. The trade did not surprise Masaoka.
"I thought it was going to happen. My agent kept me informed of what the Dodgers were trying to get done and I was anxious the last few days (before the trading deadline)," said Masaoka, a 6-foot left-hander who signed with the Dodgers after graduating from Waiakea High School and being selected in the third round of the 1995 draft.
He had major league stints in 1999 and 2000 as a reliever, but the Dodgers wanted him to return to being a starting pitcher this year, something he had not done for three seasons. He was assigned to Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League to begin the season.
"It was a totally different game for me. I had about five starts in Vegas and gave up a lot of runs," Masaoka said. "I went to my pitching coach, Dean Treanor, and asked him if I could return to the bullpen. He agreed and I got about 50 innings of relief in before the trade."
One month into the season, Masaoka's earned run average was an unhealthy 9.31. When he was traded six weeks later, the ERA had dropped to 5.61, still not great, but the drop represented his quality work in relief.
The bullpen is where Masaoka feels most comfortable. At Las Vegas he was used in middle relief and even closed a couple of games.
"My total game is better as a relief pitcher," Masaoka said. "The pressure is there to do my job the best I can. You can't make a mistake. I didn't feel that pressure as a starter and I've pretty much given up on starting."
He relies on a fastball and a curve that he finds most effective against left-handed hitters. He will use a change-up against right-handed hitters but says that's not really a good pitch against lefties, the type of batter he is called on to retire most often.
"It felt good knowing someone would trade for me. I think I needed to be somewhere else," Masaoka, 23, said. "I didn't think it (getting back to the big leagues) was going to happen anymore with the Dodgers. It's just a feeling you get when they call everyone else up, especially when they need lefties."
He is on Chicago's 40-man roster. Although he found small things to be different with his new organization, Masaoka said, "It's still the same game, the guys are the same, it's just baseball."
In his last nine relief appearances for the Charlotte Knights in the International League, Masaoka did not allow an earned run.
"It's always good to have someone with a new organization see you and hopefully you open some eyes," he said.
Height: 6 feet.
Onan Masaoka's career statistics
Weight: 188 pounds.
School: Waiakea H.S.
Year, Team, League G IP W L Pct. H ER BB SO ERA 1995, Yakima, Northwest 15 4913 2 4 .333 28 20 47 75 3.65 1996, Savannah, South Atlantic 13 65 2 5 .286 55 31 35 80 4.29 1997, Vero Beach, Florida State 28 14823 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 6623 2 4 .333 55 32 47 61 4.32 2000, Albuquerque, Pacific Coast 18 3713 3 1 .750 31 16 36 22 3.86 2000, Los Angeles, National 29 27 1 1 .500 23 12 15 27 4.00 2001, Las Vegas, Pacific Coast 31 73 8 4 .667 87 45 28 61 5.55 2001, Charlotte, International 14 1423 0 1 .000 11 7 5 22 4.30 Minor League Totals 146 498 27 29 .482 439 248 269 486 4.48 Major League Totals 83 9323 3 5 .375 78 44 62 88 4.23
>> Drafted in 3rd round by the Los Angeles Dodgers, June 1, 1995. Signed June 4, 1995.
>> Tied for the Northwest League lead in wild pitches (12) and finished seventh in strikeouts (75) in 1995.
>> Finished fifth in strikeouts (132) in the Florida State League and led Vero Beach in innings pitched (14823) in 1997.
>> Listed as a Top 10 prospect (top pitcher, No. 5 overall) in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization in Baseball America's 1998 Almanac.
>> Named the Texas League Pitcher of the Week (May 18-24, 1998) when he won both starts, allowing no earned runs in 15 innings with 19 strikeouts.
>> Traded by the Los Angeles Dodgers with right-hander Gary Majewski and outfielder Jeff Barry to the Chicago White Sox for right-hander James Baldwin, July 26, 2001.
>> Had 3 saves for Yakima in 1995, 1 for Vero Beach in 1997, 1 for San Antonio in 1998, 1 for Los Angeles in 1999, 1 for Las Vegas and 5 for Charlotte in 2001.
This is part of a series profiling professional baseball players from Hawaii. Tomorrow, Wailuku's Shane Victorino will be featured.