Area players hit with suspensions

Published June 29, 2005

A setup man who had not pitched above Double A in five years as a minor-leaguer, Tampa Yankees right-hander Jeff Kennard finally broke through this season with a save in the Florida State League All-Star Game on June18.

He went from the peak of his career to the abyss two days later when he was one of five suspended 15 games by the commissioner's office for violating baseball's minor-league drug policy.

Kennard and Clearwater Threshers outfielder Josh Carter were the only two players among the three area FSL clubs who were suspended. The others were Jeffrey Bruksch, a pitcher in the Cincinnati organization; Sergio Garcia, an infielder in the Los Angeles Dodgers' farm system; and Brian Walker, a pitcher in the New York Mets' system.

The latest minor-league suspensions bring the total to 75 this season. In early April, 38 players were suspended, the most public outing of violators since the minor-league testing policy was put in place in 2001.

The minor-league program calls for up to four unannounced tests annually, including the offseason. A first offense draws a 15-game suspension without pay, a second offense a 30-game suspension, a third a 60-game suspension, a fourth a one-year ban and a fifth strike permanent suspension.

Banned substances in the minor leagues include steroids, steroid precursors, masking agents, diuretics, pro-hormone nutritional supplements, ephedrine, human growth hormone and erythropoietin (EPO). The policy also prohibits drugs of abuse, such as amphetamines, cocaine, LSD, marijuana, opiates (such as heroin), phencyclidine (PCP), MDMA (ecstasy) and GHB.

Kennard, a former standout at Centerville High in Ohio who was pick by the Yankees in the 40th round of the 2002 draft, told the Dayton Daily News he was suspended for taking an over-the-counter product that was banned.

"I experienced one of my baseball highlights in the All-Star Game before 5,000 fans, then two days later I'm notified of the suspension," Kennard said. "Glutomine is an over-the-counter product I got at GNC (General Nutrition Center). It contained an andro (androstenedione) derivative, a banned substance, and that's why I got busted.

"I've taken it since I've been in pro ball. It accelerates my recovery time. As a set-up man, I pitch a lot of innings, sometimes three days straight.

"I'm slightly embarrassed because they publicized my name. It's out there and automatically people think it's a steroid."

Kennard, 23, is 6-1 in 27 relief appearances this season. He has 29 strikeouts in 35 innings pitched.

"Things happen for a reason," Kennard told the Dayton Daily News . "I think part of the policy is ridiculous, but it's also good in another way that it's cleaning things up. It's part of a learning process for me, just a young mistake. I'm going to be leery of taking any supplements now.

"I'm able to travel with the team, get in my work. I just can't be in uniform during the games. So I'm clocking the pitchers with the radar gun. It'll give me time to work on my changeup."

Carter, a 14th-round pick of the Padres in 2001 out of Oregon State, was picked by the Phillies in the Rule V draft this year. The 24-year-old was hitting .218 in 110 at-bats for the Threshers before his season ended with a knee injury.

"We follow the policy and don't want to comment on that stuff," Phillies farm director Mike Arbuckle said of Carter. "(Josh) tore the patella tendon in his knee and has been rehabbing. We don't anticipate bringing up anyone to take his place because Clearwater already was carrying more outfielders than they needed."

Until this season, the stain of performance-enhancing drugs had not spread over minor-league baseball. Since the policy was introduced in 2001, the number of violators has declined - 11 percent positive tests the first season, 4.8 percent the second, 4 percent in 2003 and 1.7 percent last year.

Then came the 38 minor-leaguers who were suspended at the start of the season, one day after former Tampa Bay Devil Ray Alex Sanchez became the first player to test positive under Major League Baseball's stricter policy.

Since then, four other major-leaguers have been suspended. Most of the suspensions came from tests taken during spring training camps in Florida and Arizona.

There have been four more groups of minor-leaguers suspended since the first wave, including David Smith, an outfielder with the Dunedin Blue Jays.

Smith was hitting .268 with five home runs and 29 RBIs before violating the performance-enhancing drugs policy. He served his suspension and is back with Dunedin.

"It was real tough for us because (Smith) was playing so well before that happened," said Ken Carson, general manager for Dunedin. "I think it's a learning experience for the players, and this will die down once everyone gets more educated with the system."