Weekend Dish: Aug. 13





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It’s taken a while, but Giants’ righthander Darren Sack has finally seen some positive results this season after battling through his first two years as a pro.

Sack, an 11th-round pick out of Division II Sonoma (Calif.) State in 2004, has opened a lot of eyes in the Cal League at high Class A San Jose, posting 7-1, 1.34 numbers over 61 innings. And part of that success--which includes a victory Saturday in which Sack gave up only one run despite walking six in five innings against Lake Elsinore--might be just pitching close to home compared to last season at low Class A Augusta, or his professional debut, which he spent at short-season Salem-Keizer.

"Ugh," is the only syllable that emerges from the 24-year-old Anaheim native when discussing his first two campaigns. The reaction is completely understandable after Sack put up a 6.23 ERA in 69 innings in the Northwest League in 2004, then followed that up by going 8-7, 5.08 and allowed 144 hits over 126 innings with the GreenJackets last year.

"Let’s just say I’ve had to be pretty mentally tough," Sack said. "Most guys have to learn to put bad outings behind them while I've had to put a couple of bad years behind me.

"It's frustrating to think about, because you keep thinking to yourself, 'I know I'm better than this,’ and maybe you feel a little bit better here or there--but for the most part I've had to pretty much scrap those two years and start over."

And start over he has--the righthander recently rode a six-game win streak before an Aug. 6 outing against Bakersfield when he allowed four runs on six hits in just three innings of work.

"It was just one of those nights where I left some balls up early in counts and they hit everything hard," Sack said. "That and I think I relied too much on my slider and didn't have the confidence in my fastball like I normally do."

Sack is a total command and control type of pitcher, featuring a 90-91 mph fastball, slider, curveball and changeup, and the latter has been the biggest plus for him at San Jose. The change has allowed him to completely uneutralize lefthanded hitters, who are batting just .133 against Sack.

"I worked real hard with (San Jose pitching coach) Jim Bennett, and now it's to the point where I have confidence throwing it behind in counts," he said. "It took some time to really get a feel. We worked on different grips and keeping my arm speed the same, and now I feel like I can really command it in the zone where I want to."

Sack didn’t make his 2006 debut until late April, staying behind at the Giants’ extended spring training facility in Scottsdale, Ariz., to work on minor mechanical flaws in his delivery and fine-tuning his ability to effectively control the running game.

He started in the bullpen in the Cal League, but worked his way into the rotation by mid-June and has taken off since then.

"I really tried hard to improve my endurance through strength training in the offseason, which I didn't do much of after my first two years," Sack said. "So there's that and it's also been about having the ability to get every outing from those first two years out of my head. Now I feel like I’m back to being the pitcher I was in college, which is a pretty good feeling. But I think going through all of that has made me a better pitcher, just having to deal with that kind of adversity."

QUICK HITS

• The Braves made two player personnel moves over the weekend, promoting righthander Anthony Lerew back to Triple-A Richmond and calling up righthander Joey Devine to Double-A Mississippi. Lerew put up abysmal numbers at Richmond over the season’s first half, including giving up 70 hits 48 innings. He improved under the tutelage of Mississippi pitching coach Kent Willis, posting 4-2, 2.03 numbers in 49 innings. Devine started the season in the majors, but was sent down to high Class A in June, where he went 1-3, 5.89 in 18 innings at Myrtle Beach.

• The Indians called up righthanded reliever Andrew Brown on Saturday night. Brown, a sixth-round pick of the Braves in 1999, was shipped from Atlanta to the Dodgers as part of a package for Gary Sheffield in 2002; and then dealt from Los Angeles with outfielder Franklin Gutierrez for Milton Bradley two years later. In just his second season as a reliever, Brown went 5-4, 2.60 with five saves in 39 appearances at Triple-A Buffalo this season. In 62 innings, he’s struck out 53 and walked 36.

• In the 'sign up now for Harry Wendelstedt's umpire school' department, low Class A Delmarva righthander Josh Potter and outfielder Danny Figueroa served as men in blue for the final three innings of the Shorebirds’ 12-3 win against West Virginia on Friday. Base umpire Tim Bretzke took over behind the plate for umpire Dan Oliver, who left the game before the start of the seventh inning following complications of a concussion received five days ago. Power manager Mike Guerrero played the game in protest, stating that Oliver was unfit to umpire the game from the start. In Oliver’s defense, Delmarva had a commanding, 10-1 lead when Potter and Figueroa took over on the bases.

• This has been a season Giants shortstop Marcus Sanders would like to forget. Sanders, a 17th-round pick in 2003, has been hampered by nagging shoulder problems all season and batted just .213/.302/.265 at San Jose before being sent to extended to rehab in mid-June. Defensively, he wasn’t much better in the Cal League, committing 19 errors and compiling a fielding percentage of just .921 at the premium position. Sanders popped up on the radar screen in early August in the Rookie-level Arizona League, and played in back-to-back games over the weekend where the 20-year-old had just one hit in nine at-bats.

• The Pirates promoted John Van Benschoten to Double-A Altoona after the rehabbing righthander made only one start in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Van Benschoten, Pittsburgh’s first-rounder in 2001, missed all of last season after having arthroscopic surgeries on both shoulders. In his lone start in the GCL, Van Benschoten allowed three earned runs over six innings.

• Cardinals righthander Chris Lambert left Double-A Springfield’s 4-0 loss to Frisco after just one inning on Friday. Lambert, St. Louis’ first-rounder in 2004, felt a twinge in his right biceps, but is not expected to miss his next start. On the season, Lambert is 10-9, 5.30 in 121 innings for Springfield this season.

• Indians lefthander David Huff, the club’s first-round pick this year out of UCLA, made his pro debut on Friday. Huff, who signed for $900,000, allowed a run on one hit and walked three over 1 2/3 innings in short-season Mahoning Valley’s 11-3 loss to Jamestown.

• Astros righthander Matt Albers jumped from Double-A straight to the big leagues, but after going 0-1, 4.35 in 11 innings in the majors, Albers was reassigned to Triple-A Round Rock and made his debut at that level on Friday. The 23rd-rounder in 2001 tossed six shutout innings for the Express, walking two and whiffing five in a 4-0 win against Oklahoma. At Double-A Corpus Christi this season, Albers went 10-2, 2.17 in 116 innings.

• Diamondbacks outfielder Cyle Hankerd extended his hitting streak to 14--10 of which have been multi-hit games--at short-season Yakima. Hankerd, a third-rounder this year out of Southern California, is hitting .377/.416/.493 in 207 at-bats.

• Braves catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia might not have had the offensive year everyone expected at Double-A Mississippi, but Atlanta’s No. 1 prospect has improved exceptionally behind the plate. Last season, Saltalamacchia threw out 26 percent of would-be basestealers at Myrtle Beach, but this year, he’s upped that number significantly--to 36 percent (35 for 96).

• Finally, Diamondbacks infielder Jamie D’Antona extended his hitting streak to 15 games on Saturday, upping his overall numbers to .305/.377/.483 in 383 at-bats. Even better, the 24-year-old has improved his versatility defensively this season by splitting time between third base and first. He also has caught three games and played once in the outfield.