MARK MALASKA Promotion of lifetime: Cardinal Mooney grad called up by Devil Rays



The reliever had been pitching at Triple-A Durham.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
Mark Malaska is living the dream of every baseball player.
The Cardinal Mooney High graduate is set to jog out of the bullpen at Tropicana Field, wearing his Tampa Bay Devil Rays uniform and making his major league debut.
Malaska, 25, was promoted by the organization Wednesday night from Triple-A Durham. The Devil Rays play host to the Texas Rangers tonight.
"Actually, it's faster than I expected it to be," said Malaska, a left-hander, of his progress through the Devil Rays minor league system. "My whole career, I've never been on the same team for a whole season."
Role reversal
Malaska started the 2003 season at Double-A Orlando, where Devil Rays coaches worked to transform him from a starting pitcher to a reliever.
He had pitched well as a starter in spring training, but the Devil Rays had a plan for him. At the time, Tampa Bay had three left-handers in its starting rotation and not much confidence in its left-handed relievers.
"They told me it would be the best thing for my career," Malaska said. "Whatever gets me there [the big leagues] the fastest."
Since that decision was made, the Devil Rays pitching staff has fallen on hard times.
"They totally cleaned out the lefties they had in the bullpen," Malaska said. "They have two left-handers on the whole staff. Guys started falling by the wayside."
All of which got Malaska closer to the majors.
"The bullpen is in disarray up there. They have a closer, but the roles are foggy right now," he said Tuesday. "I'm waiting to see what they're getting ready to do. Supposedly, they're going to make a lot of moves in the next couple of weeks."
Present-day path
A former University of Akron standout, Malaska was at Triple-A Durham (N.C.), where he compiled a 4.30 ERA in 15 games.
"When I first got here, I got knocked around a little bit because they were trying to get me to mix in a changeup," said Malaska, who has a 92 mph fastball and a slider. "My mind was cluttered with trying to learn so much stuff."
Malaska has sorted out the confusion, getting back to throwing his strongest pitches. He's allowed one run in the last 13 innings.
"It's definitely a different kind of mindset, the way you approach hitters," Malaska said of his transition to the bullpen. "You're not going to be out there for long. It sounds like a clich & eacute;, but it's more like a sprint than a marathon."
At Double-A, Malaska held the set-up role and that of a left-handed specialist, in which he was called upon to face left-handed batters.
"I pitched a lot of days in a row. I wasn't out there long, maybe one-third or two-thirds [of an inning]," he said. "I came here [to Triple-A] and I'm pretty much accustomed to every role. They're making us interchangeable parts."
Proof in the pitches
Malaska already has gotten proof that he can handle big-league batters. He was one of four minor leaguers selected to play against the Phillies in a Hall of Fame exhibition earlier this year in Cooperstown, N.Y.
He went through the Phillies lineup once and didn't allow a run.
Now, Malaska wants that chance again, to step onto the mound in a big-league atmosphere and ride his new role to a permanent spot at the top.
"I'm like an offensive lineman in football," he said. "I go out there and do my job, and half the people don't know my name."
Now that he has gotten that much-anticipated promotion to the land of baseball dreams, guarantee this: They will know Mark Malaska.
richesson@vindy.com

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