5 adjusting to minor leagues

By Al Chase

Shane Komine, Duke Sardinha, Kila Kaaihue and Grady Symonds became well acquainted with riding the bus for hours as part of their initial season in professional baseball. Hubert Pruett escaped that experience in the Arizona League, where the ballparks are a long home run from each other.

Sardinha (Kamehameha, Pepperdine) was bothered by tendinitis in his right (throwing) shoulder and didn't become an everyday player for the Casper (Wyo.) Rockies of the Pioneer League until the final month of the season. He spent the first part as the designated hitter, playing every third game before finally returning to his regular third base position.

Since the Colorado Rockies stopped Sardinha from throwing for the first half of the season, he never started to learn how to be a catcher, something the Rockies expressed an interest in after making him their 19th-round pick.

"When I finally got to see pitching every day and playing third base, it got a lot better because I got my rhythm back," said Sardinha, who finished with a .248 batting average after struggling as a part-time player.

"The shoulder isn't 100 percent, but it is better than when I first started. I'm not discouraged. I'm here in Tucson for instructional league and will work on becoming a catcher. There is still a little pain (in the shoulder), but I'll be able to go full-time here, play through it for a month, then come home and rest for three months before spring training."

KOMINE HAD to wait until the 12th inning of Visalia's final game to pick up his first professional victory with an inning of shutout relief.

Used strictly in short relief, the right-hander from Kalani High School and Nebraska appeared in 18 games, walked 20, fanned 22, had a 1-3 record and finished with a 5.96 ERA.

"Going from a starter to a reliever is kind of different," said Komine, who is in Arizona for instructional league. "The throwing is different and the way you prepare is different. I struggled out of the bullpen. My control was the biggest problem."

Visalia teammate and roommate Jeff Coleman said he experienced the same difficulty last year after being drafted out of Hawaii.

However, the bullpen is only a temporary stop for Komine, a 12th-round selection in June by the Oakland Athletics.

"They talked to me before I went to Visalia and said the wanted to put me in the bullpen so I wouldn't wear my arm out," Komine said. "I'm going to be a starting pitcher, but they wanted me to get to know the organization better. I've been working on a lot of things to get back to where I was. They want me to work on having better control of my body in instructional league."

KAAIHUE PLAYED 14 games at first base and was used 29 times as the designated hitter by Royals' manager Lloyd Simmons. The Iolani graduate and the Kansas City Royals' 15th-round pick in June started strong in the Gulf Coast league with 17 hits in his first 39 at-bats, then cooled off, going 19-for-100 the rest of the season.

However, there is a reason for the slump.

Kaaihue was hitting more than .400 in the 14 games he played at first base, getting at least one hit in each of those games to start the season. Then he was hit on the right elbow with a pitch.

"A lot of people think it was intentional, but I didn't care. I was playing," Kaaihue said. "I didn't know it was fractured at the time. I thought it was a sore arm, but I couldn't throw."

He started hitting at the DH spot, but there was no improvement, even after a week's rest. Finally, X-rays indicated a chipped bone on the elbow joint. The elbow feels fine now.

The Royals are not holding instructional league because the team is moving its spring training site to Arizona, but Kaaihue has been invited to a prospect camp early next year at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

PRUETT, WHO signed late last summer after being drafted out of Kamehameha by the Milwaukee Brewers, was destined for Ogden, Utah, in the Pioneer League until he suffered a slight strain of his right shoulder in spring training.

He spent his rookie summer with the Brewers in the Arizona League, first as a reliever to work his arm back into shape, then as a starting pitcher.

"I kind of like starting games. I'm more relaxed," Pruett said. "That's what I did at Kamehameha. With relieving, it's always a rush. We need you now, get ready in three minutes."

The 6-foot-2 right-hander felt he made a lot of progress with pitch control and location this summer. He throws a fastball, curve, changeup and slider.

"I can throw the curve anywhere in the count and the same is true with the change," Pruett said. "It's an automatic. I feel comfortable with it anytime and I can do a lot with that pitch."

Pruett struck out 36, walked just 17 in 40 innings and posted a 4.91 ERA with a 4-1 win-loss record. He will continue his baseball education in instructional league.

SYMONDS (Hawaii) was in a three-catcher rotation to start his pro career at Missoula (Mont.) in the Rookie Advanced Pioneer League. He was limited to 25 at-bats after being struck on the left shoulder with an opponent's bat on the follow-through. That cost him two weeks while rehabilitating.

For the final month of the season, he was transferred to Lancaster in the Class A California League, where he went to the plate just 10 times.

"The Diamondbacks had their second-round pick (Chris Snyder) there," Symonds said. "He was the everyday guy. They put me there so I could get to know the pitching staff for next year.

"Overall, the season was all right. It was pretty much what I expected. Now I'll spend the winter trying to get bigger, faster and stronger for the spring. The word from the Diamondbacks staff was 'be ready'."

Symonds appeared in 17 total games and was 9-for-35 (.257) overall.

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