Hawaii Winter Baseball Notebook: Oct. 26

Yankees pitchers getting first full taste of pro ball




HONOLULU--The Yankees spent $3.35 million to sign righthanders Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain, their first two picks in June.

And then they sent them to Hawaii.

Of course, they are not on vacation. They are here to adjust to pro ball while pitching for the West Oahu CaneFires of Hawaii Winter Baseball. They are joined by three other Yankees pitching prospects, righthanders Christian Garcia, Jeff Marquez and Mark Melancon.

"(Kennedy and Chamberlain) both have very limited pro-ball experience," said CaneFires’ pitching coach Scott Aldred of the top two draft picks. "This is their first real taste of pro ball."

Kennedy, who signed for $2.25 million after his junior season at Southern California as the 21st overall selection, and Chamberlain, who got $1.1 million as the 41st pick after his junior year at Nebraska, are pretty much getting their pro start in paradise.

Since both signed late, Kennedy made only one start, going 2 2/3 innings for short-season Staten Island, while Chamberlain said he had just two innings in instructional ball. They’re here to make up for lost time.

"That’s what the Yankees are using this for," Aldred said of the HWB experience.

"I’m just trying to get the feel of pro baseball because I’m new," said Kennedy, who pitched here in February for the Trojans against the University of Hawaii in a 4-3 loss to Steven Wright, the Cleveland Indians’ second-round pick. "It’s a little different tempo than how college was. You see better hitters than you have in college and the guys that come out of high school. I’m just trying to get used to the different batters."

Through Oct. 24, Chamberlain (1-1) had the fifth-best earned run average in HWB at 2.57. He has allowed 11 hits with 21 strikeouts to two walks in 14 innings, working with a fastball sitting in the 94-97 mph range.

But Kennedy (0-1) hasn’t fared as well in his four appearances, two of them starts. His ERA ballooned to 8.10 after giving up eight runs in 1 1/3 innings as a starter in an 8-1 loss to Honolulu on Oct. 22.

"He’s struggling a little bit to get his rhythm," Aldred said. "We’re working on some things here. We’ve shortened his stride length, and that can be an adjustment while he’s trying to compete at the same time."

Aldred said college pitchers also need to change their mindset about pitching to batters with wood bats. There is no need to fear aluminum anymore.

"We want to challenge them to pitch with their fastball, use the power in their arms," Aldred said.

Chamberlain seems to have grasped the concept.

"You’re pitching to wood, not aluminum," he said. "You have to learn to pitch to contact and just trust your fastball more because that allows your secondary stuff to be better."

Although both are behind in terms of experience to the rest of the league, each said the break over the summer helped.

Kennedy, who logged 101 2/3 innings for the Trojans this past season, did throw bullpen sessions while negotiating with New York.

"The rest did help," the 6-foot, 190-pounder said. "If I was throwing the whole time then came out here, that would’ve been a lot of innings. That would’ve been a lot of stress on my arm pitching from February all the way to November."

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Chamberlain agreed. He pitched 89 1/3 innings for the Cornhuskers, but missed two starts, he said, once to an arm injury and the other "because it was 30 degrees."

"It was nice to enjoy my family and take a break from the game because it’s not just physically you get worn down, but mentally you get worn down," he said.

As a result, Chamberlain has felt strong, adding the warm climate helps.

"I was 93 to 97 (mph) the whole game, so my arm feels good and it’s nice pitching in this weather," he said after a recent outing. "It doesn’t take too long to get loose or stay loose."

Chamberlain added the league isn’t just helping him as a pitcher, but as a person as well.

"You have to open yourself up because your teammates are from everywhere else," said Chamberlain, a Native American from Nebraska. "We have Japanese guys, so you have to go out of your comfort zone to make others feel comfortable. You learn the new language. I’m going to learn so much because of the fun you have on the off days. I think all around, I’m going to be a better person by just being here."

Kennedy, who is from Huntington Beach, Calif., would like to visit the Banzai Pipeline to see some of the major pro surf meets in November, when the giant waves start pounding Oahu’s north shore. Back home, he surfs at Trestles, sort of the equivalent of the Pipeline. But he manages to keep his priorities in order.

"I’m here to have fun, but this is my job," he said. "I want to get better and I want to do well here."

BLUE HAWAIIANS

• Although the Phillies are one of the nine MLB teams not participating in HWB, one of their scouting coordinators, Jim Fregosi Jr., is here monitoring the league to see if his organization might want to send players next season. He also was scouting talent that might come up in trades.

• Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles lefthander Kanehisa Arime, the league’s wins leader with three, gave up his first run after 26 consecutive scoreless innings to start the season in an 8-1 win for Honolulu against West Oahu on Oct. 22. At 28, he is the senior member of the league.

"(The Golden Eagles) sent me here to experience a different kind of baseball environment," Arime said through an interpreter. "And I want to develop my changeup. I want to learn from the American coaches and American teammates."

Arime just completed his fifth pro season in Nippon Professional Baseball. He was drafted in 2002 by the then-Kintetsu Buffaloes (later merged with Orix) out of a corporate league, in which he played for five years after graduating from high school in Okinawa. Corporate leagues are considered amateur in Japan.

• Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine made an appearance at Hans L’Orange Park on Oct. 22. The former Mets manager was on hand to watch the North Shore Honu, who have five Marines in catcher Keiyo Aomatsu and pitchers Takuya Kikou, Terufumi Mishima, Kesuke Hayashi and Yusuke Kawasaki.