De La Hoya takes long road to success

Surgery, Taiwan, Mexico precede win in Wings' debut

Minor League Baseball

June 21, 1999|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The 11-year odyssey was frequently frustrating and sometimes excruciating.

But Javier De La Hoya endured it all and a week ago made his first start in Triple-A baseball a winning one after stops with four major-league organizations, and appearances in his native Mexico and in Taiwan.

In his debut with Rochester, De La Hoya shut down the New York Yankees' Triple-A franchise, Columbus, on two runs for seven innings in a 10-2 victory that ended the Red Wings' season-high nine-game losing streak.

Along his winding road, the rangy right-hander has suffered two major injuries, releases, waivers, undergone Tommy John-type elbow surgery and several times faced the prospect of looking for another line of work.

"Quitting crossed my mind after my arm started feeling great one time and then terrible the next," said De La Hoya, who originally signed in 1989 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the favorite team of his boyhood. "Then, I had elbow surgery and didn't have a team. It was tough."

His love of the game enabled De La Hoya to persevere and after a swing through Cordoba in the Mexican League and Taiwan last summer, he received a tryout with the Orioles that led to an assignment to Bowie in mid-August.

De La Hoya suddenly became almost unbeatable. In the equivalent of less than a full season, he went 13-2 for the Baysox with a 3.49 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 108 1/3 innings.

"He was there when I was with the Dodgers," said Bowie manager Joe Ferguson. "The difference now is that he is older and more experienced. It helped him to play in Mexico because down there you face older hitters. He matured."

Now 29 years old, De La Hoya has perfected a changeup that makes his fastball and curveball better pitches.

De La Hoya's work habits and demeanor on the mound are so impeccable Ferguson called him "a model for all our young pitchers. He knows how to keep in shape, how to attack hitters and he never changes emotion."

His experience included "mounds so terrible, they're all sand" in Taiwan and 24-hour bus rides in Mexico.

"I started pitching in high school when I went out for the team and they said the infield was all set," he said.

Triple-A Rochester

The Red Wings have not won a home night game since May 4. Calvin Pickering has been named to play in the Futures Game two days before the All-Star Game at Fenway Park despite a .250 average with four homers. He has not homered since May 27. Ryan Minor leads the club with 15 homers, but has struck out 73 times. The Red Wings won three of four at Columbus, only their second series victory. The team's hitting has perked up with the recent additions of Derrick May (.439) and Scott Livingstone (.414).

Double-A Bowie

A rainout Thursday broke Bowie's streak of 87 consecutive home games without one. Pitcher Matt Riley was also selected for the Futures Game in Boston. Over three starts, the phenom allowed two earned runs in 25 innings. Mike Bell made his first start in two years last week. He went 4 2/3 innings, one-third short of qualifying for the win in Bowie's 11-3 triumph over Trenton. Bell is fourth in the Eastern League with a 3.00 ERA . The Baysox started the season with five right-handers in their rotation; now they have four left-handers. Rick Short hit in 21 straight home games at a .432 clip.

Single-A Frederick

Frederick unleashed its longest winning streak (six) to pull into second place, but Wilmington has already clinched the title by virtue of beating the Keys in their season series. Darnell McDonald continued to rage at the plate. From a season-low .185 average on May 27, he hit in 19 of 21 games to climb to a season-high .262. Because of a defection, reserve outfielder Luis Matos became a starter in the All-Star game against the California League tomorrow.

Single-A Delmarva

The South Atlantic League All-Star Game at Delmarva tomorrow will include two Shorebirds, catcher Tom McGee and infielder Maikell Diaz, and manager Butch Davis as a coach. The Shorebirds' hitting has perked up. Diaz is batting .326 in his last 138 at-bats and McGee is at .314 over 86 at-bats. Tim Raines Jr. had a seven-game hitting streak and batting .317 over 104 at-bats.

Pub Date: 6/21/99

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