Jenks throwing gasand strikes
By Jack Magruder
Scottsdale righthander Jenks is the pitcher with the 98 mph fastball, the shoulder-to-shoe-tops curveball ... and the bat in his hand. This may be a DH-only league, but you could not prove it by Jenks, who has begged manager Al Pedrique to take batting practice and often swings in the dugout before his starts.
"I have a hard time letting go, I guess,'' the Angels prospect said with a grin last Thursday after hitting fungos to his Scottsdale infielders during pregame work before a game against Mesa.
"He will always find someone in the dugout to throw him sunflower seeds so he can swing a bat,'' Pedrique said.
Which may approximate what the rest of the league sees when Jenks is on the mound.
Jenks, 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, is 1-1, 1.08 with 54 strikeouts in 42 innings and poised to lead the AFL in strikeouts for the second consecutive season while helping the Scorpions to the East Division title. Jenks pitched six shutout innings in the division-clincher Saturday, a 2-0 victory over Mesa. He had 49 strikeouts here last season.
"He has all the tools to pitch in the majors,'' Pedrique said.
"The one thing he has been working very hard is to have good command with his breaking ball, which we have seen in his last four or five outings. He's throwing the breaking ball for strikes. Now he is mixing all his pitches up which makes it very effective for him to keep the hitters off balance.''
The Maryvale staff clocked Jenks at 98, 99 and 100 mph on three successive pitches during his Oct. 19 start, and told Pedrique that Jenks stayed at 96 mph during his five scoreless innings, when he struck out eight.
"The kid has a great arm,'' Pedrique said. "He just needs to learn how to pitch.''
Jenks, 21, had hoped to refine his curveball while maintaining his physical conditioning this fall, two missions that appear accomplished.
"I knew I needed to be able to throw my curveball for strikes, and I needed to do it in any count, in fastball counts,'' said Jenks, a fifth-round draftee in 2000 after eligibility issues kept him from playing high school ball his junior and senior seasons.
"Now I'm really consistent with it. I'm throwing it any time I want to. It's nice when you have confidence in it and you know it is going to work. You don't have it in the back of your mind--1-1 count, 2-1 count, 'I can't throw a curveball here because I can't throw it for strikes.' That's what I've learned how to do.
"In any league, they can hit 95-plus. When you can throw something offspeed for a strike, you set that in their minds. That gets them off your fastball, you know, swinging out their butts trying to hit that first pitch because they know the fastball is coming.''
With his ability to throw breaking balls for strikes, Jenks' control has markedly improved. After walking 90 in 123 innings this summer, he has only 17 walks here.
His AFL success is encouraging to parent Anaheim, which demoted Jenks from Double-A Arkansas to Class A Rancho Cucamonga after he violated a team rule on a bus ride in the middle of the year. He was 3-6, 4.66 in 10 starts at Arkansas and 3-5, 4.82 in 11 starts at Rancho Cucamonga.
"I'm not going to go into detail, but I understand now what the organization was trying to do,'' Jenks said. "From their standpoint, I probably would have done the same thing.''
Jenks said the incident provoked "kind of a head change,'' where something in his mind just clicked. "I knew what I had to do, and it helped,'' he said.
His AFL results have been a spectacular testimony to the adjustment.
"He's very coachable,'' Pedrique said. "He takes his mechanics very seriously. He's doing his running. When you have a player like that, you love to take a chance with him. He knows he needs to take care of himself and stay in good shape, and that's all he's been doing the whole Fall League.''
"I've been working real hard in the gym to keep my stamina up,'' said Jenks, a trait that can be a key for a power pitcher.
"Power pitchers are predominantly strikeout guys. They throw a lot of pitches. A guy like Randy Johnson has no problem throwing 130 pitches a guy because he's a horse. That's what I want to be.''
Scottsdale and Peoria, who have been leading their divisions since the second week of the season, clinched berths in the one-game championship playoff Nov. 23 at Scottsdale Stadium. Peoria clinched the West Division on Nov. 13, when a victory over Phoenix game it a 7 1-2 game lead with seven to play. Scottsdale clinched the East behind Jenks on Nov. 16.
Peoria first baseman Tagg Bozied (Padres) tied the league season record for home runs when he hit No. 11 on Nov. 13. Grand Canyon's Ryan Klesko hit 11 in the inaugural 1992 season. J.R. Phillips (Scottsdale, 1993), George Lombard (Maryvale, 1999) and Hank Blalock (Peoria, 2001) are the others to have hit 11 in a season.
Scottsdale first baseman Ken Harvey (Royals), hitting .477-7-34, continues on record race for batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage entering the final three games of the season. Scott Pose hit .506 for Scottsdale in 1993, the only qualifier to hit over .500 in league history. Pose also had a .506 on-base percentage that year. Harvey's is .538. Blalock had a .713 slugging percentage last season. Harvey's is .757.
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