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After 34 innings, Double-A Montgomery reliever Juan Salas' ERA still sits at 0.00. The Devil Rays converted the 27-year-old righthander from third base to the mound in the middle of the 2004 season, and because Salas is no longer just a one-speed pitcher, they are finally reaping the rewards.
Salas consistently showed an 80 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale as an infielder, and he regularly tops out at 96 mph on the hill. But he was pretty much all fastballs all the time before this season–or at least that's the one pitch he was most effective with.
Salas has now added a hard, 85-86 mph slider to his repertoire and the results in the Southern League have been staggering–and so has his command.
In those 34 innings, Salas has a 52-14 strikeout-walk ratio, and opposing hitters are batting just .110 against him.
"He's got a lot of natural late arm-side run on his fastball," a scout from an American League club said. "He gets around on his slider some, but overall he's shown he's got a pretty good idea of when and how to use it."
Salas is currently tied for third in the SL in saves with 14. He's been equally devastating on left and righthanded hitters, with righties batting .123 and lefties hitting a miniscule .081. The Rays are probably glad no one bit on Salas in last year's Rule 5 draft, as they left the Dominican native exposed.
"What he's done up to this point certainly is impressive," Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said. "Sometimes it takes time for those conversion guys just in terms of body awareness. But he's come a long way from when we first moved him over. He's not just a power arm anymore."
Since becoming an Oakland Athletics' affiliate, low Class A Kane County has consistently been one of the strongest clubs in the Midwest League. Typically, this was due to featuring a large number of college players because of players the A's would target in the draft. Last year however, Oakland used more of it's top choices on high school players, and Kane County has continued their winning ways.
With an 8-4 victory against Burlington last night, the Cougars clinched the first-half title in the Midwest League's Western Division and have advanced to the playoffs for the third time in four years as an A's affiliate.
In the second round last year, the A's took high school righthanders Craig Italiano and Jared Lansford and then grabbed Vince Mazzarro, another high school righthander, in the third. That trio, along with shortstop Justin Sellers, a sixth-rounder out of Marina High in Huntington Beach, Calif., have all been key contributors on a team that has the MWL's best record at 39-24.
Italiano has been out since late April with a sore shoulder, but Lansford and Mazzarro have picked up the slack. Lansford, the son of Carney, is 5-2, 2.36 while Mazzarro is 6-4, 4.52 and leads in the team in innings pitched with 62. Sellers has been the club's everyday shortstop and is hitting .245/.346/.343.
The Cougars have not been without contributors from the college ranks; however, as their best hitter is Jeff Baisley, a 12th-round last year out of South Florida who is hitting .323./403/.559.
• Astros righthander Chad Reineke left Sunday's high Class A Salem's game against Lynchburg in the second inning after John Suomi hit a comebacker off his thigh. Reineke, who is 5-5, 2.89 in 75 innings this year, regrouped to throw another pitch–which was hit for an RBI single–before he was removed . . . A 51-minute rain delay ended Tigers righthander Dallas Trahern's day in the second inning, but righty P.J. Finigan picked him up with 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief to improve to 7-0, 2.45 in 40 innings for high Class A Lakeland. The 23-year-old Finigan has worked exclusively out of the bullpen in his first two professional seasons since he was selected in the seventh round of the 2005 draft out of Southern Illinois, where he pitched in relief for two years and started his senior year. This season, he has held opponents to a .213 average and walked just 10 while striking out 23 in 22 appearances . . . High Class A Kinston shortstop Brian Finegan will miss 6-to-8 weeks with a broken first metatarsal in his left foot. Finegan sustained the break when he fouled a pitch off his foot in a game against Wilmington on May 31. Finegan, a 15th-round pick out of Hawaii in 2004, was hitting .266/.349/.370 in 192 at-bats for the K-Tribe. "I probably just punched my ticket to instructional league," Finegan told the Kinston Free Press . . . Blue Jays lefthander Gustavo Chacin was heading to the DL for the second time this season just as another pitcher, righthander A.J. Burnett, began a rehab assignment with a start Monday for Triple-A Syracuse. Burnett, who will be limited to 75 pitches or five innings, was to start for high Class A Dunedin, but Tropical Storm Alberto threatened to postpone the game. Because of injury and the ineffectiveness of Josh Towers, Toronto has relied on Casey Janssen (5-3, 3.07 in nine starts) and Ty Taubenheim (0-3, 5.68 in four starts) to hold down two sports in the major league rotation. Both began the season at Syracuse . . . Shortstop-turned-second baseman Russ Adams will rejoin the Blue Jays Monday in Toronto. He hit .338/.400/.500 for Syracuse . . . Rochester scored twice in the 15th inning to win 4-2 at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and push their lead in the IL Northern Division to six games. The Red Wings have won 10 of 11 games and are 11-2 in extra inning games . . . Triple-A Tucson completed an 8-0 homestand with a 7-6 win against Salt Lake. Outfielder Matt Erickson drew a bases-loaded, four-pitch walk-off walk . . . Tacoma outfielder Jon Nelson went 8-for-18 with two home runs and nine RBIs in the first four Triple-A games of his career. The Rainers were visiting Las Vegas . . . Triple-A Tucson outfielder Chris Young sees the ball well when facing lefthanders, so naturally he has a hard time explaining his 7-for-46 (with just two extra-base hits) start against them this season. "I've always hit fine against lefties in my entire career. Right now, I believe it's pretty much coincidence," he told the Arizona Star. "The sample size at the all-star break is good enough to start bringing guys in and say, 'Look, you've gotta make an adjustment.' "
Contributing: Matt Eddy, Aaron Fitt.