Brewers' Ace of Pace
Brewers righthander Jeff C. D'Amico is imposing at 6'7" and 250 pounds, but looks can be deceiving: He's a junkball pitcher whose fastball rarely reaches 90 mph. Yet he's quickly proving that he could be Milwaukee's ace of the future. How's that possible? "The average major league pitcher has a speed differential between his fastball and curve of 10 to 12 miles per hour," says Brewers manager Davey Lopes. "Jeff's is 18. Hitters aren't used to making such an adjustment."
Thanks to his looping 65-mph curveball, D'Amico has emerged from mothballs to put up an 8-4 record with a 1.88 ERA through Sunday, giving moribund Milwaukee a glimmer of hope as it looks ahead to its move to Miller Park next season.
If he's not yet one of the National League's top starters, D'Amico is certainly its most surprising. After going 9-7 with a 4-71 ERA with the Brewers in 1997, D'Amico missed all but one inning of the next two seasons due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He had surgery in January '98, but the operation failed to correct the injury. In August of that year he had a capsular shift, the surgery Orel Hershiser had undergone successfully in '90. "After the first operation, I expected to be back that year," says D'Amico, 24. "Instead, [the doctors] said my career could be over. A six-month rehab turned into 18 months."
During that time D'Amico showed up for the Brewers' home games, a depressing enough exercise for a fan, never mind a former first-round pick who ached to lend a helping hand. To bolster his confidence, Milwaukee brought D'Amico back for the next-to-last game of the 1999 season; he pitched a scoreless ninth inning against the Reds.
Still, Lopes refused to rush D'Amico this spring and sent him to Triple A Indianapolis to open the season. Says Brewers pitching coach Bob Apodaca, "It gave Jeff the time he needed to regain his strength and confidence." D'Amico was called up in May but was placed on the DL on June 7 after he again experienced shoulder pain. Upon returning in July, D'Amico put together a superb six-game stretch, going 5-0 with a 0.76 ERA and winning the league's Pitcher of the Month award. Last Friday he allowed two runs in eight innings of a 6-2 win over the Cardinals. "I've seen guys have streaks when they were really lucky, with guys diving for balls and stuff," says Milwaukee reliever Curtis Leskanic, "but I've never seen anything like this. It's been awesome."
The two years of arm trouble reduced the speed of D'Amico's fastball from the low 90s to the high 80s. During his recovery, he worked extensively on control. "People see a guy succeed fast, and they're skeptical," says Apodaca. "But Jeff is the real thing. He has poise, he has maturity, he has good stuff, and, at this point, he must appreciate what it means to be here."
Aug. 25-27: Diamondbacks at Mets Both have New York pedigrees and arrogant my-way-or-the-highway tendencies, yet could two managers be in more different positions than Arizona's Buck Showalter and New York's Bobby Valentine? After spending much of the past two years on the hot seat, Valentine appears secure, with the Mets having won 16 of 19 through Sunday to run their record to 69-47 and open a 5�-game lead over the Diamondbacks in the National League Wild Card race. Showalter, who last year was extolled for guiding Arizona, a second-year expansion team, to a division tide, is catching heat as the Diamondbacks struggle and players, management and media moan about Showalter's rigidity and attention to inane details. Last week Arizona managing general partner Jerry Colangelo was conspicuously noncommittal when asked about Showalter's future.