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Stingers' pitching rotation may be best in league

MESA, Ariz. — When the baseball season is about to begin, you hear managers and pitching coaches talk about how strong their starting rotations are going to be during the coming season. In the case of the 2001 Salt Lake Stingers, Garry Templeton and Randy Kramer might be telling the truth.

Last year in Edmonton, the staff was in the top three in team earned-run average and the Trappers were just three games behind Salt Lake after the first two months of the season. Injuries at the big-league level depleted the Triple-A pitching and they ended up 12th in the PCL with a 5.12 staff ERA.

If the Angels stay healthy at Anaheim this year, the Salt Lake rotation could be the best in the league. At this point, four of the five starters are set with, in no particular order, Scot Shields, Brian Cooper, Elvin Nina and Steve Green.

Shields led the Pacific Coast League in 2000 with 156 strikeouts, featuring a 92-93 mph fastball. He did pitch in some tough luck with a 7-13 record and a 5.41 ERA after going 27-14 his first three seasons of professional baseball. The durable right-hander was fifth in the league in innings pitched and tied for third with four complete games. Shields has seven complete game outings over the past two seasons.

Nina and Green both feature heaters in the mid-90's. Nina is coming off a 2000 season that had mixed results. He missed several outings with a strained rib cage, appearing in just 15 games with Double-A Erie and Edmonton. On the other hand, he was one of the top hurlers in the Arizona Fall League with a 1-0 record and a 0.41 ERA, allowing just one run in 22 innings. Kramer believed that Nina showed a lot of improvement in his game statistically, mentally and physically.

Green split his time last year between Double-A and Triple-A, going 7-4 with Erie, but just 0-4 in Edmonton.

Cooper is the only one of the four with major-league experience, having made 20 starts for the Angels over the past two seasons, going 5-9 with a 5.65 ERA.

He was recalled and optioned three times last season.

Kramer describes Cooper as a "command and control" pitcher who can keep hitters off stride when he's on his game. The team probably won't know who the fifth starter will be until Saturday at the earliest.

The Stingers drilled the Indianapolis Indians (Milwaukee) 7-2 on Thursday afternoon in Maryvale. Chris Pritchett's two-run single in the first put them ahead to stay. A.J. LeDay drilled a two-run homer in the fourth, and Scott Morgan added a two run double in the fifth. The Angels' Jarrod Washburn, who will start the season on the disabled list with strep throat, worked the first two innings for Salt Lake.

NOTES: Kramer, in his first season as a Triple-A pitching coach, says he won't have a structured pitch count limit for his starters during the early part of the season. He says the number of tough pitches in key situations will be the deciding factor, adding that a "hard" 60 pitches can be a strenuous as an "easy" 80 pitches.

Among those on the Angels' Double-A roster at Arkansas is first baseman Robb Quinlan, the younger brother of former Buzz third baseman Tom Quinlan, who was in Salt Lake for the 1995 and 1996 seasons. Robb says Tom is getting ready for his second season of playing professionally in Korea, where he was the MVP of the Korean World Series.

Steve Klauke is the voice of the Salt Lake Stingers. His broadcasts can be heard this season on ESPN radio, 1230 AM this season.