Liner On Elbow Welcomes Neagle To The Big Leagues

SIDELINES

July 29, 1991|By Pat O'Malley

It wasn't what Denny Neagle had hoped, but still he's there in the big show.

A 1986 graduate of Arundel High in Gambrills, Neagle's first appearance in the big leagues was shortened Saturday night by Candy Maldonado of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Making his major league debut for the Minnesota Twins in front ofnearly 48,000 fans at the Metrodome, Neagle took a lined shot off Maldonado's bat at the start of the fourth inning; he was hit on the elbow of his left arm -- his pitching arm. Neagle had to leave the gamewith runners on first and second and the Twins leading, 2-1. He received a standing ovation from Twins fans as he departed.

Minnesota won the game, 7-4, but Neagle did not get the decision.

"At first I thought (the arm) was broken," Neagle said from Minnesota yesterday. "It was a tremendous sting, and for a while I had no feeling in it.It looks like it's just a deep bruise and, hopefully, I'll only missone start and be back out there."

Neagle received more treatment on the elbow Sunday morning in the Twins' training room and is not expected to go on the disabled list. The club is scheduled to determinehis status within the next 48 hours.

Neagle said yesterday that he expected to be back on the hill in about a week.

"I was sick, almost threw up when he took that shot on the elbow," said Denny NeagleSr. He flew to Minnesota on Friday night with his wife, Joanne, after getting the news that their son had been called up to the big leagues from the Twins' AAA club in Portland.

"I said to Joanne, 'Why in the hell couldn't it have been somewhere else instead of his pitching elbow?' Up to that point, he was pitching a pretty good ball game,although it wasn't his style because he was a little nervous. He hadjust struck out the side in the third."

Though he usually pitcheswith pinpoint control, Neagle went to a lot of 3-2 counts on the Brewer hitters but still had good numbers. The smooth lefty, who made itto the big leagues after less than three years in the bushes, only gave up four hits, one run, one walk and punched out five in the threeinnings he worked.

The major league debut jitters got Neagle, causing the nervousness that threw off his control.

As Neagle returned to the dugout, holding his elbow, reliever Mark Guthrie, who was toenter the game in the eighth inning, said, "Don't worry about it, kid. You packed 'em in here tonight, and they're giving you a standing ovation.' "

Among those who packed the Dome to see Neagle pitch for the Twins, who lead the American League West, were several former University of Minnesota teammates. After being named the Anne Arundel County Sun Baseball Player of the Year in 1986, Neagle went on to sparkle at the University of Minnesota. At the end of his junior year, the Twins picked him on the third round of the June free agent draft.

Neagle signed a lucrative contract and embarked on a meteoric risein the Twins' organization, advancing from rookie ball in 1989 to Class A by season's end and jumping from A to AA by the end of 1990.

Last summer, he went 20-3 overall at stops in A ball at Visalia, Calif., and AA ball in Orlando, Fla. He was the only 20-game winner in all of minor league baseball.

This spring, as a non-roster member, Neagle continued to impress the Twins' brass. His 8-2 start at AAA Portland in the Pacific Coast League earned him the starting assignmentin the Triple-A Alliance All-Star Game in Louisville, Ky.

With the best AAA players from the American and National League on hand, Neagle again impressed in three strong innings of work. It was then thatthe Twins started realizing that this 22-year-old was ahead of schedule and ready to pitch against the big boys.

Just to reinforce their confidence in Neagle, the Twins' big wheels tabbed him to start inthe July 22 Hall of Fame exhibition in Cooperstown, N.Y., against the San Francisco Giants.

Once again, Neagle was up to the challenge, going six innings of five-hit baseball, yielding only two earned runs, striking out six and not walking a batter against one of baseball's top hitting lineups. Big thumpers Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell were among his K's.

That sealed it for Neagle. He was beckoned to the bigs in the middle of the week and was told he would start Saturdaynight against the Brewers. The scenario has been a natural rush for Denny and his family.

Neagle's rapid professional success can be attributed to several factors.

Neagle is the first to tell you thathis high school coach at Arundel, Bernie Walter, laid his foundationand taught him how to pitch and win. Walter instilled a confidence in Neagle in his junior year that the then-lanky left-hander never hadbefore.

That confidence was further honed during a summer pitching for Baltimore sandlot institution Sheriff Fowble and his Harbor Federal 16-and-under team. By his senior year, Neagle knew he had the ability to go somewhere in the game.

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