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VonneMarie
04-08-2003, 03:15 AM
Maybe it's true. Maybe these Royals kids really can pitch.

That was the big, murky uncertainty that hung over the Royals all winter and throughout spring training. Yes, the everyday lineup looked good enough to inflict sufficient damage. Yes, the defense seemed to be just fine.

But, golly, these young pitchers have to come through or you can stamp 100 losses all over this franchise's face once again.

So far, so good.

With the Royals leaping away 5-0, the four young starters -- Jeremy Affeldt, Miguel Asencio, Chris George and Runelvys Hernandez -- have been on the fast track. Collectively, they have a 3-0 record and 2.38 ERA.

"That's a solid start," Affeldt said. "Runelvys has given up one earned run in 13 innings. That guy is really in a zone right now, keeping our team in it and leading the way.

"We're going to score runs this year, so when you keep our hitters going to the plate feeling like, hey, there's a chance we can win, that's just helping out."

Affeldt, 23, is scheduled for his second start tonight in frigid Detroit.

"I've got the 28-degree game," he said. "And what else -- snow?"

Matter of fact, the Detroit area did receive two to four inches of snow with freezing rain on the way. The temperature range today was forecast between 29 and 39 degrees.

The Tigers have an 0-6 record, a snail's pace to which the Royals can relate.

"Last year was just such a bad start, a miserable start," Affeldt said. "This year, we won in spring training... and then we take it right into the season and win our first five games, and the atmosphere is not even close to the same.

"It's black and white compared to last year. It's just five games, but the atmosphere is incredible."

The heady climate can be directly attributed to the success of the kid starters.

"They've been pitching well, getting ahead in the count, and I've been very impressed," manager Tony Pena said.

"It's very important because now they know they can do it."

The kids have been so impressive that veteran Darrell May, rained out of his first start on Sunday, was pushed back to next Saturday until after the other four had their scheduled turns.

None of the starters had a bigger off-season concern than Affeldt. His bout with a persistent blister on the middle finger of his left pitching hand became a news staple.

Now that story and the blister have vanished.

There's still a lump on the finger, and Affeldt has taken precautions.

"I changed my grip a little bit so it comes off my finger differently. Not a lot," he said.

He works with a nail file constantly.

"I continue to file this down all the time. File, file, file. I keep my fingernail trimmed up pretty short. It's a lot of stuff you have to do, but whatever it takes to keep pitching," Affeldt said.

When he warms up between starts, he covers the area with a Band-Aid. Even in the bullpen before a game, he keeps the area covered until his last five or six pitches.

His experiments with such items as garlic to toughen the area have ended.

"I tried the garlic juice down in the Dominican. It worked until I left my finger in there too long, and it about ate up my whole finger," he said.

"It's an acid, and I crushed up garlic and I put a layer of juice on there. It firmed up my finger pretty good. But one day in the Dominican, it hurt so bad I just soaked it and, all of a sudden, my finger started peeling off its skin."

His winter season ended prematurely, but now he's throwing as if nothing had happened.

How was his celebrated, sharp-breaking curveball in spring training?

"This spring?" he said. "Pffffft.

"Down there in Arizona, it was coming out of my hand pretty good and it had break, but it was one of those things that sometimes it would and sometimes it wouldn't. It hung up in the air a little too long."

Perhaps it was the thinner air of Arizona.

"But what it caused me to do was to throw a good breaking ball. I had to really finish it off," he said.

Affeldt has what pitching coach John Cumberland calls a "12-to-6" curveball, one that snaps downward like slicing through a clock.

"I haven't seen one of those in a long time," Cumberland said.

When the Royals left Arizona and played an exhibition game in Texas, Affeldt pitched and found that the snap was back. Ditto in his first start against the Chicago White Sox.

"I'd like to say when I'm on, it's pretty much 12 to 6, but I've thrown a lot of 11-to-5's," he said. "I really don't let it get any flatter than that because it stays in that hitting zone a little too long."

His fastball hums in at about 95 mph, and he's improved his changeup since last season.

"My fastball velocity is right where I want it, and my changeup is the best it's been since I started playing baseball," Affeldt said. "I never really had one in the minor leagues. I threw a fastball, a curve, and I threw 50 different grips for a changeup and never found one I liked.

"But my changeup in my last game is what got me through the last two innings."

Affeldt didn't get the win against the White Sox after they tied the score against reliever Albie Lopez. Asencio had the roughest start so far, giving up four runs in five innings against the Sox and allowing the staff's only home run this season.

Hernandez won both his starts, and George got a victory against the Cleveland Indians.

"I have a lot more confidence. I don't feel scared or nervous," Hernandez said.

In fact, none of the four seems the least bit intimidated this season.

Now that the Royals have notched the first 5-0 start in their history, they're on track to obliterate the memory of last year's 8-16 April. They could post the first winning record for the season's first month since 1989.

"That's a long time, so we might as well keep changing history, you know," Affeldt said.

"Why stop?"

keg in kc
04-08-2003, 08:41 AM
Glad you're taking the time to post articles, but you need to start crediting the author and providing a link. Not trying to give you a hard time or anything -- it's just a respectful thing to do...

VonneMarie
04-08-2003, 12:24 PM
Originally posted by keg in kc
Glad you're taking the time to post articles, but you need to start crediting the author and providing a link. Not trying to give you a hard time or anything -- it's just a respectful thing to do...
Yeah I know, I don't know why I do that.