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Arizona Fall League Notebook

By Chris Kline
November 6, 2004

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.--Bill Bray came into Thursday’s game against Grand Canyon throwing gas, and his slider was nearly untouchable, diving late and hitting the 85-87 mph range. His family had come all the way from Virginia to pay him a visit in this, just his second month on the mound as a pro.

While many players in the Arizona Fall League are winding down as the season hits its final three weeks, Bray, the Expos’ first-round pick in this year’s draft, is still talking like each pitch is life or death.

“Some guys might not be taking it very seriously right now, and some guys are just plain tired from everything they’ve gone through all season long,” Bray said. “But for me, this is the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced. I’m taking everything very seriously because it’s an honor to be here and to represent the organization.”

Bray worked his fastball up to 95 mph in relief of starter Keith Bucktrot (Phillies), who, while he has been solid this fall, could not make it out of the first inning, giving up four runs on two hits. Bray settled the Rafters down, only making one mistake to Kevin West (Twins), who blasted a line-drive solo shot into the Grand Canyon bullpen for a 5-1 lead.

“It was a 3-1 count and nobody was on base,” Bray said. “I’m definitely going to challenge somebody in that situation. But it was supposed to be a fastball inside and I left it right over the middle. I missed my spot and he killed it.”

He came back with a vengeance, however, striking out the next two batters to end the inning.

In addition to a two-seam and four-seam fastball, which sits in the 91-94 range and touches 95, Bray also features a knockout, late-breaking slider and a changeup that is still in the early stages of development. How the changeup comes along will dictate Bray’s role in the future.

As a closer in college at William & Mary, he never needed to go beyond a two-pitch mix. He was effective in that role after the Expos inked him to a deal worth $1.75 million as the 13th overall pick, sending him straight to high Class A Brevard County. He went 0-2, 4.91, struck out six and walked one in seven innings of work in his debut.

“For now, I’m comfortable in relief,” Bray said. “I did it all through college and I like the adrenaline rush I get when I go out there.”

After the season ended, Bray was sent to Arizona to get in some more innings against a bevy of quality hitters in the Fall League.

“He’s held his own here, that’s for sure,” Peoria hitting coach Torey Lovullo said. “He’s young and he’ll make some young mistakes, but that’s why he’s here.”

The other reason is the changeup. He threw just one yesterday, but is slowly working it into game situations and hopes to be comfortable enough with its development by the start of next season, when he more than likely will land at the Expos’ new high Class A affiliate in Potomac.

“That’s up to them where they put me,” he said. “Wherever it is, I’ll be happy. And if they want me to start, I’ll start. If they want me somewhere else, that’s fine too. I don’t make the rules. That’s up to them.”

Yesterday was also the first time his family got a chance to see him throw professionally and he didn’t disappoint—although he had to put up with some smack talk from his little brother Michael earlier in the day.

“He predicted that I was going to give up a home run today,” Bray said with a sigh. “He totally jinxed me. He’s always talking some junk. I’m going to have to wait until he goes to sleep tonight to get back at him.”

Family trash-talking aside, Bray is excited about being in an organization on the move to the nation’s capital.

“My teammates and I are really thrilled to be going to D.C.,” said Bray, who hails from Virginia Beach, Va. “That’s no disrespect to Montreal, but D.C. is a great city and we should have had baseball there for a long time. Everyone’s really excited, but at this point, we don’t even know what we’re going to be called yet.”

FALL GUYS

• If there’s a game on the line this fall, look no further than Phoenix righthander Houston Street (Athletics). The former Texas standout came into a 5-5 tie in the bottom of the eighth last night against and tossed two perfect innings—striking out four of the six batters he faced—then picked up the win when Chris Roberson (Phillies) scored the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth.

• No one doubts Mesa outfielder Casey Rogowski’s (White Sox) intensity, but even his teammates got a kick out of how far he was in the zone last night. Rogowski thought he checked his swing on a called third strike that got away from catcher Carlos Ruiz (Phillies) and rolled into the visiting dugout. The home plate umpire awarded Rogowski first base, but before he even moved his hands or the barrel of the bat, he was yelling, “You can’t check that!” in the direction of the ump. The umpire retorted, “You’re on first base,” and the entire Solar Sox dugout erupted with laughter.

• The Mesa club received an unexpected visitor last night as White Sox righthander Brandon McCarthy showed up in the clubhouse. McCarthy, who was originally scheduled to play for the Solar Sox this fall, was shut down at the end of the minor league season and ordered to rest. “I’m completely fine, I just miss it and I wanted to come and see these guys play,” said McCarthy, who led the minor leagues with 202 strikeouts in 2004. “I live real close by and this is the first chance I got to come out. I wish I could be out there with them, but the team had other plans for me. Now I’m going to do everything I can to try to lock down the No. 5 spot in the (big league) rotation next year. That’s my goal. We’ll see what happens.”

• Among the unique aspects of the AFL are the silence from the nearly-empty stands and the use of reserve players as bat boys during games. Lovullo was trying to change all that, at least for one day in Scottsdale. He tried to pick a young boy out of the stands to come down and fill in Thursday, but the youngster was too shy and his father—much to his chagrin with camera in hand--regretfully declined on his son’s behalf. Instead, Peoria used a player some 10-to-20 times bigger than the child . . . 6-foot-2, 220-pound catcher Ryan Garko, who sprinted out on the field to retrieve bats and helmets. “I haven’t done this for a long, long time,” Garko said. “But it was fun. You have to do what you have to do.”

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