The Scrappers pitching staff ranked 13th of 14 teams in the league.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
NILES -- One year ago, Mahoning Valley Scrappers pitching coach Ken Rowe was instructing players for the Cleveland Indians' Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, N.Y.
A former major league pitcher, Rowe downplayed his role in 2001 when he jumped several levels to work with players in Class A short-season baseball.
"I've been from level to level," said Rowe, an Atlanta resident. "I just enjoy working with the kids. They're attentive, and it's nice to see them make improvement.
"In Triple A, you still have to instruct," Rowe said, when asked the differences between levels. "You still have to play the game the right way, no matter what level you're at. It's a challenge no matter where you go."
Pitching problems: No doubt, the 2001 season offered Rowe a great challenge. Scrappers pitching was ranked 13th of 14 teams in the New York-Penn League with a 4.25 earned-run average.
"They have to pitch, they have to rack up innings, they have to get experience, learn how to get hitters out, gain consistency with all of their pitches," Rowe said.
"I think most of their deliveries are pretty solid," he said. "It just takes time. Just like a hitter needs a lot of at-bats, a pitcher needs a lot of innings."
Scrappers pitchers who were most impressive this season include starters Nick Moran (third-round draft pick) and Doug Lantz (14th) and relievers Chris Cooper (35th) and Todd Culp (37th).
A 6-foot-5 right-hander from Fresno State University, Moran recorded a team high in wins, with a 5-2 record and 3.40 ERA.
"What I really learned is that if you make good pitches, no matter how good the hitters are, you're going to get them out most of the time," Moran said. "If you limit your mistakes and make quality pitches, you're going to be successful."
Rowe said, "They're coming out of college, so they have a different method, so to speak. It took them three weeks to get acclimated to our system and professional baseball, in general.
"But they all made the adjustment, and they're going to be better pitchers for it next year."
Switching roles: Luke Field, a second-year professional who relieved for the Scrappers in 2000, was strong in his first year as a starter. He went 4-5 with a 3.69 ERA.
"Luke had some real good ball games," Rowe said. "He struggled at times, but his stuff is there and he's got a pretty good arm."
Cooper, a Sewickley, Pa., native, arguably developed the most during the short season. Although he was 0-5, he had a 2.38 ERA and 11 saves in 34 innings.
"Chris Cooper had an awful start [early in the season], but from that moment until this point, he's been lights out," Scrappers manager Dave Turgeon said. "He's been consistent all year. He's worked fast, thrown strikes and attacked hitters."
Cooper said, "You have your doubts about how you're going to do, but once you get up on the mound and you see you can get guys out and you can pitch at this level, you start settling in."
For the progress they had shown, Field, Lantz and Cooper were rewarded at season's end with promotions and short stints at Double-A Akron.
Lantz, who was 4-6 with a 3.44 ERA with the Scrappers, allowed one hit in six innings of his start with the Aeros.
"I was impressed by the pitchers and the command they have," Lantz said of the Double-A level. "They're just able to hit their spots more. If they missed, they missed by a couple of inches. It wasn't like the ball was 2 feet high or anything like that."
Field said, "To get to a Double-A roster, it takes so much. You have to be consistent year in and year out, and that's what each one of those players who was up there had done. To watch that, and to be like, Geez, I'm getting a chance to play here.
"Then, once you get there, like our pitching coach said, you realize you're that close."
Next step: The Indians will send Victor Kleine, Marcos Mendoza, Mariano Gomez and Moran to the three-week instructional league program in Winter Haven, Fla.
"It's just to give them a little bit more knowledge of baseball," Rowe said.
"It helps because when they come into spring training in March [of 2002], they'll know the system, they'll know the layout of Winter Haven and they'll be able to make the adjustments to spring training a little quicker."