When left-hander Ed Puikunas of Torrance was asked by the Shreveport Captains’ radio announcer to explain his pitching success, the self-proclaimed free spirit answered without hesitation: pineapples.
“Some people got the idea I was kind of nutty after that,” Puikunas said. “I just said it to be funny, but I guess I said it in such a serious way that people thought I was serious. The announcer kind of baited me, and I kept talking about how I had come up with this program of eating so many pineapples at certain times. It’s been a running joke since then.”
Puikunas admits that he might be kind of nutty. But he’s also having his best season.
In his third season with the San Francisco Giants’ double-A Southern League franchise in Louisiana, Puikunas has developed a mature, relaxed attitude. His 5-2 record, 2.85 earned-run average and six saves in 39 games don’t tell the whole story.
“A lot of my appearances have been coming in to face one left-hander, so that doesn’t give you a lot of great stats,” Puikunas said. “But I’ve been effective. You can look at my ERA and my innings-pitched-to-strikeouts ratio (almost 1-to-1), but in limited situations like I’ve seen, you’re either effective or you’re not.”
The Captains are high on Puikunas, 26, a former East Torrance High School and Chapman College standout. But spending three years at the same level has a way of making even the most confident ballplayer anxious about his future.
“I don’t think the reason I’m not in the bigs has anything to do with my talent or progression as a pitcher,” Puikunas said. “I just feel the Giants don’t have room for me. I know I could be playing in the majors for a lot of people.”
But Puikunas isn’t uptight.
“You could say I’m stagnating, and in a way I am,” he said. “But just because I’m in the same town for the third year doesn’t mean I haven’t improved. I have. I feel like I’m getting better all the time.”
After Garden Grove’s Mike Batesole was promoted from the Dodgers’ Class-A Vero Beach club to double-A San Antonio in June, he went 0 for 27 platooning at third base and designated hitter, which was no way to land a starting job.
“I couldn’t get into a rhythm,” he said. “Playing every few days wasn’t what I was used to. But you’re not going to get a chance to beat anybody out if you’re not hitting.”
But Batesole got another chance when third baseman Walt McConnell went down with an ankle injury July 20. Since then, Batesole has hit more than .400, bringing his average at San Antonio to .318, with 22 RBIs and 4 home runs in 37 games.
“It couldn’t be better,” he said. “That 0-for-27 start put me in a hole, but the run I’ve had seen then is unbelievable. I think the (Dodgers) are noticing me.”
Drafted by the Dodgers in the 14th round in 1985 from Garden Grove High School, Batesole knew he faced an uphill battle.
“When you’re picked that low, you’ve got to work hard just to open some eyes,” he said. “Now I think I’m doing that. I’m just hanging out, wanting to keep this thing going. I’m just hoping (the Dodgers) think enough to give me a look this year.”
Fullerton’s Eric Bullock got the call for the third time a couple of weeks ago.
After an impressive season at triple-A Portland, the outfielder was called up to the Minnesota Twins for a quick look. Too quick for Bullock, no doubt. After four at-bats and no hits, he was sent back to Portland, where he has hit .301 with 43 RBIs and 4 home runs in 96 games.
But Portland officials expect him to get a more serious look when the major leagues are allowed to expand their rosters Sept. 1.
Drafted out of Cal State Fullerton in the first round by Houston in 1981, Bullock began the 1987 season with the Astros and was traded to Minnesota.
“He became a lead-off hitter for us, and he’s found his niche,” Portland spokesman John Christensen said. “The organization is very high on Eric.”