When he looks at the success his students have enjoyed, GreenJackets pitching coach Scott Lovekamp almost feels like a proud papa.
A successful first season as a coach at the professional level has opened as many eyes among the Pirates' hierarchy as have several former and current Augusta pitchers he has helped develop.
"When you look at what some of these guys have done this year, you've got to give much of the credit to the work (Lovekamp) has done," Jackets manager Scott Little said. "He's taken guys with good arms and helped them start to understand how to pitch, not just rely on stuff and throw."
Says the 38-year-old Lovekamp: "I've been fortunate because most everyone has been real receptive to my ideas and pitching philosophies. For the ones who have had success, the credit really goes to them for their willingness to work at it. It's a nice feeling to know you had a little something to do with a young pitcher's success."
After spending three minorleague seasons pitching in the San Diego farm system, Lovekamp served as pitching coach at MacMurray College (Ill.) and Southwest Missouri State, before moving on to the University of Florida, where he coached from 1989-92. He broke into pro ball as a scout for the Padres in 1993, and was the Bucs' scouting supervisor for Florida and Georgia from 1994-96.
This season, of the top 10 Pirates farmhands in ERA, seven have come under Lovekamp's tutelage in Augusta.
Topping the list is left-hander Paul Ah Yat (8-1, 2.29 ERA, 138 strikeouts, 18 walks in 114 innings) and right-hander Neal McDade (10-4, 2.80 ERA, 104 Ks, 24 BBs in 112 innings). Both were recently promoted to Lynchburg.
Then there's Jackets 19-yearold right-hander Carlos Alvarado, who credits much of his recent success to Lovekamp's teachings, as does left-hander Jason Haynie, a South Atlantic League all-star with the Jackets before his promotion to Lynchburg in June.
For Alvarado, an unpolished power arm with mid-90s heat, it was working with Lovekamp on learning to better locate his breaking and off-speed pitches that has him dominating SAL hitters once again. Alvarado was 5-1 with a 1.15 ERA in April and May, but struggled in June and July, going 1-3 with a 5.64 ERA. In August, he is 1-0 with an 0.64 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 14 innings.
"Love showed me that I don't always have to throw fastballs to get batters out," Alvarado said. "He is the best coach I've ever had."
Haynie, the former South Carolina star who throws only in the mid-to-high 80s, credits Lovekamp's tweaking with his change-up for his emergence.
"I've always had a changeup, but I wasn't able to throw it consistently for strikes until I worked with Scott," Haynie said. "I learned a lot about pitching in the short time I got to work with him. He is an excellent pitching coach."
THE STREAK: Morgan Walker's hitting streak remained at 19 games after a night off Friday in Columbus. He is batting .400 (30-for-75) during the streak with eight home runs and 22 RBI, and he leads all SAL hitters in Augusta with a .431 average. The Pirates' 23rd-round pick last June is now five games shy of tying Hickory's Jeff Inglin for the league's longest this season, and 11 shy of shattering the 36-year-old SAL mark of 29 straight, set by Charles Truesdell of Statesville (N.C.) in 1962.
JACKETS BUZZ: Carlos Alvarado's 0.64 ERA in July is tops in the SAL. ... Since going 1-8 in his first nine decisions since joining the Jackets in May, reliever Erick Ojeda is 2-0 in August with a 1.50 ERA. ... Garrett Long's .400 average in August is second in the SAL behind Walker. ... Since joining the club earlier this month from Lynchburg, infielder Derek Swafford, who set the club record for stolen bases in a season with 52 in 1995, is batting just .167 with four steals.
BUC SHOTS: Lee Evans, the Pirates' fourth-round draft pick in 1996 who batted .193 in 54 games for the Jackets this season, hit safely in 12 straight games (July 19-August 11) at Erie (Pa.). Evans is batting .287 since his demotion to the Bucs' short-season Class A affiliate. ... Right-hander Elvin Hernandez, who set the Jackets all-time mark for wins in a season with 18 last year and made the jump to Class AA Carolina this season, was activated after a twomonth stint on the disabled list, and assigned to advanced-Class A Lynchburg (Va.). Hernandez was 2-7 with a 5.73 ERA for the Mudcats before going on the shelf with arm troubles. ... George Hlodan, demoted from Augusta to Bradenton (rookie) at the all-star break, tossed a three-hit shutout August 9 in his 1997 Gulf Coast League debut. Hlodan had been on the DL since late June.
SALLY SHORTS: After his seven-inning gem against Augusta last week, Macon ace Jason Marquis was pounded by the Jackets last Monday in Macon in Augusta's 9-8 win. The Atlanta Braves' 1996 first-rounder gave up six runs on eight hits in two innings, dropping his record to 14-7 and raising his ERA to 3.92. Hickory right-hander Brian Scott, the White Sox' sixth-rounder in this year's draft, went 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA in his first six pro starts, and was 4-3 with a 2.36 ERA through his first 10 starts. ... Rangers' top prospect Alex Sanchez was leading the SAL with 71 stolen bases for Charleston (W.Va.) through Thursday, and was tied for third in the league with 134 hits. The SAL record for bags in a season is 145, set by Vince Coleman of Macon in 1983. ... Australian-born Luke Prokopec of Savannah, a recently converted outfielder, was 2-0 with a 3.42 ERA in his first 10 relief appearances. The right-hander debuted on the mound July 10 in Augusta.
THE LOCALS: Since coming off the disabled list last week, former Westside and Kennesaw State pitcher Jason Childers is 1-0 with two saves at Helena (Mont.), the Brewers' rookie affiliate in the Pioneer League. Brother and teammate Matt Childers, the Brewers' ninth-round pick last June out of Westside, though, has struggled in his pro debut. The 6-foot-5 power right-hander is 0-4 with an 8.59 ERA. In his last start August 8 against Butte (Mt.), the younger Childers lasted just innings, allowing eight runs on seven hits. ... Asheville outfielder Mark Hamlin, an Evans and Georgia Southern product, has not committed an error in his last 83 games, and was 10th in the SAL in hitting through Thursday's games with a .304 average.