Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fish see hurler Hollingsworth cracking top of their rotation

Not-so-secret weapon could even be No. 1

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IT'S been a little over a month since Ethan Hollingsworth stood on the mound and whipped a pitch at an opponent, one that counted on the scoreboard.

So when the 26-year-old Fish starter faced the University of Winnipeg Wesmen on Sunday afternoon, he felt his arm shaking off a little rust. It went well enough: he threw two innings, struck out three batters, walked none.

"I was definitely rusty, just locating my fastball and whatnot," said Hollingsworth, who was released from the Pittsburgh Pirates' minor league ranks in late March. "But it felt good to be back out, at least get my body moving, and get in some game action."

Count it as Hollingsworth's formal introduction to Shaw Park, and to his target: The 31 pitches he threw on Sunday were the first he'd ever hurled to Fish catcher Luis Alen. It was only his second day in a Goldeyes uniform, even, though if the soft-spoken 6-2 pitcher plays like he is able, there could be many more to come. From day one, Forney pegged Hollingsworth as a capable starter, perhaps even a No. 1.

Of course, veteran southpaw Chris Salamida could have a powerful case to make, on that end. Jason Jarvis too, a late-season acquisition for the Fish last year who proceeded to lock down a 2.19 ERA in four starts, two of those complete-game shutouts. Oh, and don't forget Matt Jackson, who joined the Goldeyes last July after being released from the San Diego Padres organization, and posted a 3.70 ERA in seven games, while fanning 37 batters and walking only five.

Then there are the new starters: Hollingsworth, for one. Also battling for a rotation spot are southpaw Nick Hernandez and 24-year-old Californian Kyle Anderson, who put up rosy 2013 numbers in the Toronto Blue Jays' A-level Vancouver affiliate -- a 2.71 ERA, 58 strikeouts and 12 walks in 83 innings.

So you can see why Fish manager Rick Forney mused it would be a mistake to focus too much on the Goldeyes' booming offensive bunch. That would be doing a "bit of an injustice" to the pitching staff, he said on Saturday. "We've got some quality arms in camp."

The Goldeyes have made little secret of the fact Hollingsworth is one of their most intriguing acquisitions. Right in the Fish's training camp media guide, it says Forney has him pencilled in near the top of the rotation, and for good reason. A 2008 Colorado Rockies draft pick, he climbed as high as AAA ball three times in his six professional seasons, including hurling 10 innings for the Pirates' Indianapolis affiliate last year.

Mostly, he spent 2013 with the Altoona Curve in Pennsylvania, where he put up a 3.55 ERA in 83.2 innings, and struck out 47 batters against 20 walks. When the organization released him this spring, yeah, that was disappointing. The dream didn't die with the affiliated roster spot, though -- not the dream that began in a church baseball league in Joliet, Ill., when he was just eight years old.

Winnipeg it is, then. It helped that Hollingsworth has a friend on the team already, in bullpen bulwark Brendan Lafferty. They played together in 2012 for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, the Kansas City Royals' AA affiliate. Lafferty has been showing Hollingsworth around downtown, when they aren't at the park.

So Hollingsworth has the lay of the land, a little -- now, it's time to get to work.

"I still feel like I can get better than what I was," Hollingsworth said. "It's an uphill climb. You just gotta keep climbing."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 5, 2014 C6

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