Pitcher Hopes That Slaying Giants Gets Him Noticed

Arundel High Gradlooks Toward A Return To Majors

July 25, 1991|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Staff writer

Denny Neagle had a strange vision last week as he thought ahead to what would be the most important day of his professional baseball career. He even joked about it with his Portland Beavers roommate.

Called up from the Minnesota Twins' Class AAA affiliate to pitch againstSan Francisco Monday in the annual Hall of Fame exhibition game in Cooperstown, N.Y., Neagle, 22, imagined himself accidentally plunking Giants slugger Kevin Mitchell with a fastball.

"And sure enough, I hit him on his first at-bat," Neagle said, laughing. "I tried to get a fastball inside and I let it go a little more inside than I wanted."

That moment, though forever etched in his memory, is not what others in the Twins' organization will rememberabout Denny Neagle's major league debut.

A 1986 graduate of Arundel High, Neagle pitched six strong innings and was credited with the win in Minnesota's 6-4 victory. He allowed five hits and two earned runs, struck out six and did not walk a batter.

Neagle, a 6-foot-4 left-hander, had been added to the Twins' roster to pitch one game. He knew his time spent staring in at major league hitters would be fleeting.

"You always hear rumors and stuff like that, and even in the back of my mind, I'm thinking, 'If I throw seven no-hit innings, you never know.' But at this point, even if I did that, I know they aren't looking to make any changes right now," he said.

"I just wanted to open their eyes and increase my chances of being called up."

He did just that after retiring Will Clark twice on groundouts and striking out Mitchell and Matt Williams once each. The trio has combined for 50 home runs this season, and Clark was second in the National League in runs batted in with 69 going into last night's game againstthe New York Mets.

"These were not ideal circumstances to introduce a player to the majors. We were asking a lot of the kid, but he was about as immune to the pressure as one could imagine a pitcher being," said Twins general manager Andy MacPhail.

Neagle's shining moment occurred in the fourth inning when, with a capacity crowd of morethan 9,800 watching, he fanned Williams, Mark Leonard and Robby Thompson.

"That's when you really want to let your excitement go, but I knew I couldn't do that, so I just clenched my fist and walked off," he said.

"He seemed pretty comfortable out there," said Rob Antony, a member of the Twins public relations staff who travels with theteam. "He used his slider, which he hadn't thrown much, and it was working for him."

So were the other three pitches in his repertoire, said Twins catcher Brian Harper, who worked the first two innings before giving way to back-up Junior Ortiz.

"From what I've seen in the past few years catching in the bigs, I think he has the stuff to be a very good big-league pitcher. His fastball is sneaky fast, he has a good change and a good breaking ball. It looks like he could do well in the majors," Harper said.

With his fastball averaging 85 mph -- not overpowering by major league standards -- Neagle relies on movement and changing speeds to keep hitters off-balance and to keep himself in line for a permanent recall.

"Some pitchers throw in the90s, but (the batter) sees the ball good and it seems like these guys get hit all the time," Harper said. "His fastball is deceptive. It doesn't look like much, but he's difficult to hit."

The biggest blow off Neagle -- a two-run homer by reserve infielder Dave Anderson in the sixth inning -- would have been a routine fly ball in most parks.

Not known for his power, Anderson pulled an outside fastball and barely cleared the fence in left field, near the 305-foot mark.

"You've got to realize the elements you're in," Neagle said. "This was not a big-league field. It's 296 feet down the left-field line, andthe power alley only went up to 336.

"I was talking to a reporterfrom Minnesota, and he asked me what I thought of the blast I gave up. I said it might have been a double at Fenway Park, and he said, 'Not even that.' "

Neagle got his first look at historic Fenway after joining the Twins in Boston over the weekend. He accompanied the team to Detroit Monday, but took an early flight to Edmonton Tuesday morning, where the Beavers began a four-game series.

The comfortabletransportation and generous meal money -- $57 a game in the major leagues, compared to $18 with Portland -- were riches he must wait to experience again.

"It's always a little tough at first," he said ofhis return to the minors. "I was a little spoiled. When we left Boston Monday, a bellhop brought my bags down to the lobby, and another bellhop took care of them in Detroit. I didn't even see them for threedays.

"And sitting in the dugout, with the big-league atmosphere,was a real thrill. Everyone was having fun and getting along. I saidto myself, 'Boy, it would be nice to be able to stay here and enjoy this.' "

He shouldn't have to wait much longer, not with the eyes of the Twins management upon him.

His minor-league numbers are impressive: a 31-9 record in less than three years, including 8-3 this season. Earlier this month, he started the Triple A Alliance All-Star Game in Louisville, Ky., and gave up one run in three innings.

Last year, he was the only pitcher in the minors to win 20 games, accomplishing the feat with combined efforts at the Single A and Double A levels.

"We're very pleased with the progress he's made at this point," MacPhail said.

"He seems to have made the adjustment a pitcher has to make to compete well at the professional level.

"It's hard not to imagine him getting the opportunity to be a major-league pitcher in the relatively near future, possibly as early as '91, and certainly as early as '92."

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