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BASEBALL : Whisenant’s Stock Rising After Injury Woes Fade

Matt Whisenant has bolstered his reputation within the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization this season while pitching for Spartanburg, S.C., in the Class-A South Atlantic League.

Whisenant, a left-handed pitcher who played at La Canada High and Glendale College, is 9-6 with a 3.02 earned-run average. He has given up 71 walks and struck out 136 in 128 innings.

Possessing what many believe is the best arm in the organization, Whisenant has put two injury-plagued seasons behind him and is demonstrating the consistency and durability that could help him reach Veterans Stadium in a few years.

“Everything has kind of been snowballing in a positive way this season,” Whisenant said. “I think it’s due to the fact that I’m finally getting innings in and proving myself to the coaches and the people up top.”

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Whisenant, 21, was 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 48 innings last season for Batavia, N.Y., in the Class-A New York-Penn League.

“I was doing well last season but I was always in the training room with an elbow problem,” Whisenant said. “This year I’ve been sticking to a conditioning routine between starts and it’s really helped.”

Whisenant has been invited to the Florida Instructional League in the fall where he will work to refine his slider under the watchful eye of the Phillies’ brass.

“I’ve really matured the past couple years--on the mound and off,” Whisenant said. “I’m progressing every time I go out there. Hopefully, that will continue through Instructional League and spring training.

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“As long as I stay healthy and consistent, I’m confident I’ll keep moving up.”

Plenty in reserve: Dan Fernandez has learned many lessons during his five seasons as a professional ballplayer. And, as a backup catcher throughout his career in the San Francisco Giants’ organization, he has gained an unusual perspective.

Fernandez, 26, signed as a free agent out of Cal State Northridge and has never enjoyed more than three weeks as a regular. He is batting .210 with two home runs and 17 runs batted in in 157 at-bats for Shreveport, La., in the double-A Southern League.

“With the amount of playing time I’ve had, if you add it all up, it’s equal to about one full season,” said Fernandez, who has appeared in 51 games this season. “So I’m still fresh. Like I’m just going into my second year.”

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Fernandez’s backup role enabled him to travel throughout the Giants’ system last season. He batted .244 and drove in 11 runs in 90 at-bats for San Jose in the Class-A California League. He batted .250 in 12 at-bats for Shreveport and went hitless in three at-bats for Phoenix in the triple-A Pacific Coast League.

Fernandez recently garnered three weeks of starting assignments because former San Diego State catcher Eric Christopherson was on the disabled list. Now that Christopherson is back, Fernandez is back to his backup role.

“There’s always going to be a need for someone like me,” Fernandez said. “There are always going to be pitchers that need to be warmed up by somebody that isn’t going to complain.

“I think I can play in the big leagues. I realize I’ve never really done anything to show that I can, but then, I’ve never really had the chance to play every day.

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“We’ll see what happens after this season. I’d love to stay with the Giants, but if they don’t want me and they release me, I’m confident I can find work elsewhere with another organization.”

Bouncing back: Craig Clayton’s season was thought to be over when he suffered a broken right ankle in the first month of the season.

Clayton, an All-American at Northridge in 1991, was injured in a rundown while playing for San Bernardino, the Seattle Mariners’ affiliate in the Class-A California League.

Clayton, a third baseman, was sidelined for nine weeks, and he still is trying to recapture his swing and reflexes in the field.

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Last season, Clayton batted .264 in 43 games for Class-A Bellingham, Wash., and .333 in 20 games for San Bernardino. This season, he is batting .218 with two home runs, 18 RBIs and 10 doubles in 49 games.

“I’m not playing anywhere close to how I was before I was hurt,” Clayton said. “They’ve told me not to try and do too many things. Last week I’ve been handling it a little better but I’m still not performing the way I should.”

Despite his limited playing time, Clayton has been invited by the Mariners to play in the Arizona Instructional League.

“I’m using the rest of the season to get ready for the Instructional League and let them see what I can do,” Clayton said. “I just want to finish this season off strong and forget about it.”

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