Keys' Towers focused on major goal Good walk numbers help Frederick pitcher make mark in Carolina League

June 15, 1998|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

In 1981, his uncle, Roger Frash, was playing in the same outfield with Darryl Strawberry at Lynchburg of the Single-A Carolina League.

Two seasons later, Strawberry was the National League Rookie of the Year with the New York Mets and Frash was out of baseball.

"My uncle got hurt and never played again," recalled Frederick Keys starter Josh Towers, one of the Carolina League's top winners and a player who names Strawberry as his hero.

"It's funny, but [his uncle's] life and mine have been just about the same: same high school, same junior college, same awards, signing after the freshman year in college. I've been reliving him, and I guess he is reliving through me. But I'm not going to stop where he stopped. My whole being is geared around making the majors."

Towers, 21, is on the right path. A Ventura, Calif., native, he has a 16-5 career minor-league record and has shown a propensity for excellent control of his pitches, a primary asset for promotion.

"The changeup has made him a lot better," Keys pitching coach Larry Jaster said. "He's pretty young for this league and he's still learning how to pitch, but his command is already pretty good."

Towers entered the year with an impressive 25 walks in 117 professional innings and is improving on those numbers. He did not walk a batter in May and has issued only seven in his first 71 innings.

Chosen by the Orioles on the 15th round of the draft in 1996, Towers had been primarily a reliever until this year.

He credits "great run support and half of it luck" for the success that has placed him among the league leaders in innings, wins and ERA.

"With everything regular, pitching in turn, all my mechanics are there this year," he said. "I struggled a little with control last year because my work was erratic."

A beach kid whose father makes surfboards, Towers is fond of that scene but loves baseball.

"All I ever dreamed of was being a pro," he said. "I have a bet with a friend [Joe Gosser] back home that I'm in the majors before he becomes a full-time police officer [August 1999]. That is my goal."

He has only one complaint about Frederick.

"The clubhouse is up on the top level and you have to walk up the stairs by the stands. If you just got knocked out, you're angry and you don't want to talk to anybody. It's hard when the fans congratulate you," he said.

Rochester Red Wings

Joel Bennett is off to an 8-0 start, the best for a Red Wings pitcher since Mickey Weston went 10-0 in 1990. Bennett was fourth in the Triple-A International League in strikeouts. Steve Montgomery, formerly the closer, allowed only one earned run in 11 innings of his first two starts and joined the rotation. When Terry Mathews started Friday, he was the staff's 15th different starter in 58 games. Last year, the Red Wings used 13 starters all year. New closer Bobby Munoz picked up saves in his first two outings. Brian Sackinsky, the only player at Rochester to come through the Orioles' system, is injured again (elbow) after going 0-1 with a 9.39 ERA.

Double-A Bowie has only 10 sacrifice flies all year, and leadoff hitter Eugene Kingsale has four of them. Kingsale, whose career has been dogged by injuries, has already played in more games than in any previous season. With the trade of Eric Estes for Pete Smith, Jason McCommon has become the staff ace. He has allowed just 21 hits in 37 2/3 innings. David Lamb had a 13-game hitting streak and led the Eastern League in hits. Rocky Coppinger report: two good starts (1.64 ERA), followed by two bad (12.91). In the latest, he was shelled for five runs and nine hits. The Baysox entered the weekend 0-for-17 with the bases loaded. Pitcher Rich Kelley and infielder Chip Lawrence joined the team from Rochester. Bowie has used 13 starters, 21 pitchers overall.

Frederick Keys

Frederick is in a three-way battle with defending champion Lynchburg and Wilmington for the Carolina League's Northern Division first-half title. Rick Short recently passed 1,000 at-bats as a Key. Normally an infielder, he has been playing in the outfield with Craig Daedelow out after tearing a ligament in his left arm while crashing into a wall. Towers, fellow pitcher Josh McNatt and infielders Jerry Hairston, Chris Bryant and Ivanon Coffie will play in the league's All-Star Game on June 23 at Wilmington. Bryant and second baseman Carlos Casimiro, who hasn't made an error since May 16, each had a 10-game batting streak.

Delmarva Shorebirds

Delmarva made a run at Cape Fear, winning seven in a row, to get to within three but was finally eliminated from first-half title contention in the South Atlantic League's Northern Division. The Shorebirds are 9-4 against Cape Fear. Matt Riley, the Orioles' third-round draft choice in 1997, was activated and permitted only one hit in his first two appearances. Richard Paz leads the league in on-base average and has 50 walks. Darnell McDonald had a nine-game hitting streak to climb above .250.

Pub Date: 6/15/98

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