Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Got no fastball, got no future

Goldeyes reliever Thomas lacks 1 ingredient -- velocity

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The numbers jump off the page:

5-1 record, 1.90 ERA, 47 strikeouts, 15 walks and an opponents batting average of just .194.

They are just the kind of numbers you would expect a former major leaguer, touching down in the Northern League for a rehab assignment, to put up in a junior loop like the NL.

But that's the surprising thing, see -- those numbers aren't being put up by Bobby Korecky, the Anaheim Angels reliever who is pitching for the Winnipeg Goldeyes this season as he attempts to rebound from Tommy John surgery.

Instead, the man in the Fish bullpen with the cool demeanour and red-hot numbers this year has been Ian Thomas, a 23-year-old raw rookie fresh out of college who's never seen a major league batter from anywhere but a bleacher seat.

Indeed, so impressive are the numbers Thomas has been putting up this season that you could make a case that it's the Virginia Beach native -- not Korecky, whose 0-2 record and 5.65 ERA has overshadowed his team-leading eight saves -- who has made the best case this season to be the next Fish pitcher to get called up by a major league organization.

In fact, Thomas almost certainly would have received that call already -- except for the one number that he cannot do anything about (or at least not much). That number is 85, as in miles-per-hour, the number at which Thomas's fastball has topped out at this season.

Now, 85 m.p.h. will get you an impressive speeding ticket on the Trans Canada Highway. But it is a signpost on the road to nowhere in the world of baseball, where nothing less than high-80s is going to get an undrafted kid like Thomas noticed by an organization.

In a game that is all about the numbers, the only figure working against Thomas right now also happens to be the most important of all. "It's tough for someone like me, I know that," says Thomas. "The magic number is 90, or at least high-80s. I have to get that velocity up and I know that.

"And when I was in college (Virginia Commonwealth) I was high 80s, even 90s. But when I came to Winnipeg last season, I had a bit of an elbow injury and I lost that power and I've been trying to get it back ever since.

"And hopefully one day I will wake up and it will be back there. Because it's all about consistency and if I can consistently throw high 80s, I should get a chance at affiliated ball. At least that's what I've been told."

But what do you tell a young man who is throwing mid-80s instead of high 80s? "I don't tell him anything," said Goldeyes manager Rick Forney, who was one of the few willing to take a chance on Thomas when he graduated from the college game last year and could not find work in the pro game.

"I just tell him to come to work and who knows what can happen."

Thomas joined the Goldeyes in late July last season after a successful collegiate career. Forney turned the starter into a reliever and Thomas delivered in his first foray in the pro game, leading the club last season with a 1:1 strikeouts-to-innings-pitched ratio.

This season, Forney has groomed Thomas as a setup man to Korecky, a role for which he has shown a surprising aptitude. In fact, the home run Thomas gave up in a lopsided Goldeyes win over Kansas City on Sunday was the first run he'd yielded in 11 appearances, going all the way bay back to July 3 -- a run of 36 days, a lifetime in reliever time.

Thomas attributes part of his success this season to Korecky, who has served as a role model for the youngster, if not necessarily with his performance on the field. "Coming from the big leagues, I'm always asking him questions," Thomas says. "Certain pitches, certain counts. And just how to get ready coming out of the bullpen... He's been great for helping me out."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 10, 2010 B6

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