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Arroyo earns his start as 'best player available'

Proving he can handle the experiencd will determine whether he gets another start, says the Pirates' general manager.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 2000

BROOKSVILLE -- Jason Schmidt's recurring shoulder problems will allow some entrepreneur to start on the mound at least three times for the Pittsburgh Pirates. One of those starts will be made by former Hernando High star Bronson Arroyo, who will face the Atlanta Braves tonight at Three Rivers Stadium.

Proving he can handle the experience will go far in determining if Arroyo gets another chance, said Pirates general manager Cam Bonifay.

"We don't know how long he'll stay," said Bonifay. "We're only concerned about (tonight).

"He'll have his chance, but if he gets overmatched and can't find himself here, it won't do him any good to be here."

Bonifay said he promoted Arroyo because he was "the best player available." He said statistics will not be as important as composure for now.

"Everybody approaches their first game differently, and you just never know how they'll approach it," he said. "You find out a lot about people when they get over their jitters."

Arroyo realizes all that, and knows when the anxiety attack will mass.

"I haven't had time to get nervous yet," he said. "I'll probably start feeling it during the national anthem."

Bonifay said the club projects Arroyo as a starting pitcher, and would send him back to Triple-A Nashville to keep him on a regular schedule rather than place him in the big-league bullpen.

Pittsburgh, which drafted Arroyo in the third round of the 1995 amateur draft, has brought him to his current plateau slowly. He spent full seasons in every level from Rookie to Double A, and began 1999 at Double-A Altoona before being promoted to Nashville just before the playoffs.

Arroyo validated the strategy with performance, leading the Carolina League in wins (12) in 1997 and the Eastern League (15) last summer.

Pirates minor league director Paul Tinnell said Arroyo began the season with questions to answer at Triple A after going 0-2 with a 10.38 earned-run average in 13 innings there last year. He did so successfully, going 7-2 with a 3.86 ERA in 12 starts.

"We felt the big thing coming in this year was establishing himself at Triple A," Tinnell said. "He's pretty much done that, and done that at every level. The challenge now is doing it again."

Arroyo's acclimation should be helped by the presence of part of his old Nashville staff. Sounds manager Trent Jewett was named the Pirates' third base coach last week.

"The main gain he's made this year is his ability to read bats," Jewett told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He has better recognition of how the hitters are seeing him and what he needs to do to make the adjustment to finish hitters off. And he's changing speeds on his fastball -- not trying to throw every one of them as hard as he can."

Arroyo, a control specialist with better than a 2-1 strikeouts-to-walk ratio in his career, features a low-90s fastball and four pitches: fastball, curve, changeup and cutter. Tinnell said command of the fastball was crucial in his development.

So has development of his thin 6-foot-5, 180-pound frame.

"Part of his development has been tied to his physical maturity," Tinnell said. "He's still coming along."

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