PRO BASEBALL / MIKE HISERMAN : Aude’s Audition With Simmons Goes Smashingly


Rich Aude wanted to make a good impression.

Ted Simmons, general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, was in town to watch left-hander Zane Smith, an eight-year major league veteran who was making his third start of a minor league rehabilitation assignment with the Carolina Mudcats.

So Aude and the rest of the Mudcats set out to steal the show.

“Everyone was trying to look good for the GM,” said Aude, the Mudcats’ first baseman and cleanup hitter.

Most succeeded. Smith got his first win in three starts, 10-0 over Memphis, and Carolina rapped out 20 hits.


Aude, 21, from Chatsworth, had two hits--a double and his 11th home run.

The homer, which set a team single-season record, was a prodigious blast that ricocheted off a newly constructed scoreboard in left-center field.

The previous record was held by Ben Shelton, who hit 10 in 115 games for Carolina last season and earned a promotion to triple-A Buffalo. Aude broke the mark in 52 games. In fact, at his current pace, he might reach double figures in scoreboard bashing.

Aude, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-handed hitter, has struck the scoreboard three times in the two weeks it has been in operation. He was the first Mudcat player to reach it, banking a high drive off its face on May 21, the day it was installed.

The next batter, Mark Johnson, the Mudcats’ designated hitter, followed with a blast over the scoreboard. Johnson is Aude’s roommate.

“He put me to shame with his home run,” Aude said, “and he hasn’t let me forget it.”

Even so, Aude has plenty to boast about. He leads the double-A Southern League in home runs, is second with 37 runs batted in, and is batting a team-high .330.

Aude’s trademarks have been power and consistency. His longest hitless streak has been eight at-bats. He attributes his high average to “staying aggressive and trying to get a lot of two-strike hits.”

“The name of the game is being consistent,” said Aude, the Pirates’ second-round pick in 1989. “With two strikes, I choke up an inch, move a little closer to the pitcher and just try to put the ball in play. If I can sneak in a few singles, I can keep my average up.”


Aude’s average is the best in his career. His best average in four previous minor league seasons is the .286 he batted at Class-A Salem last season.

Aude’s performance at Salem earned him a late-season call-up to double A, but it did not earn him a spot among the prospects protected on the Pirates’ 40-man winter roster.

Somewhat surprisingly, he was not selected by another team in the annual Rule 5 draft of minor leaguers.

If he continues his torrid hitting pace, Aude seems a lock to be included on the protected roster next time. A late-season call-up by the Pirates might even be possible.

Kevin Young, the Pirates’ rookie first baseman, is batting .204. At triple-A Buffalo are Shelton (.309) and Russ Morman (.324). Morman has bounced back and forth between the major and minor leagues since 1986.

Aude said he is not anticipating a major promotion anytime soon.

“I’m not looking toward that or expecting anything,” he said. “All I’m trying to do is keep going out and getting some hits. Where they send me or if they send me are things I have no control over.”


When he first signed with the Pirates as a second-round draft choice, Aude did not possess such a mature attitude.

“I thought I was hot stuff, being a high-round draft pick,” he said.

An inside fastball changed everything.

Shortly after Aude reported to the Pirates’ rookie league affiliate in Brandenton, Fla., he was beaned in the face, breaking his jaw and ending his season.

Aude mistakenly turned into the pitch instead of ducking away. “It caught me by surprise, and it shouldn’t have,” he said.

A naive 17-year-old, Aude never thought he would be a target, even though one opposing batter had been hit and another had been brushed back after a home run the previous inning. “I was our first batter after that,” Aude said, “but I never even thought about it.”

Aude was hospitalized for a week, then returned home to live with his father, Pete, in Chatsworth. His weight dropped to 160 pounds, but his resolve to improve as a player grew stronger.

“It matured me as a player,” Aude said of the beanball. “I had to work hard to get my weight back up. It made me more aggressive all around.”



Joel Wolfe, a teammate of Aude’s at Chatsworth in 1988, might be playing against him by the end of the season. Wolfe, an outfielder who played for UCLA before signing with the Oakland A’s, is batting a team-high .371 for the Modesto A’s.

Wolfe’s average is third-best in the Class-A California League, but it hasn’t been good enough to move him out of the ninth spot in the batting order.

“That’s where I started and the team has been going so well, (manager Ted Kubiak) has left the lineup alone,” Wolfe said. “I don’t make out the lineup, so that’s something I have no control over, but I see his point. One through nine, we’re solid, and we’ve been winning.”

If Wolfe earns a promotion to double A, he would go to Huntsville, Ala., a Southern League opponent of Carolina’s. Aude and Wolfe train together at UCLA during the off-season.


The trade that brought Jeremy Hernandez to the Cleveland Indians from the San Diego Padres was almost a year in the making. The Indians had been pursuing Hernandez since last season and came close to a deal for him at the winter meetings in Louisville, Ky.

Hernandez, a right-hander from Poly High and Cal State Northridge, made his first appearance for the Indians on Wednesday, retiring all five batters he faced. He got the loss in the Indians’ 3-2 defeat to the Minnesota Twins on Friday. John Hart, Cleveland’s general manager, said Hernandez initially will be used as a setup man for closer Derek Lilliquist. . . .


Garret Anderson and Ty Van Burkleo have been the hottest hitters for the Angels’ triple-A team in Vancouver. Anderson, an outfielder who played at Kennedy, has raised his average to .278 with a torrid week in which he batted .476. Van Burkleo, from Chatsworth, batted .417, boosting his average to .287. . . .

Dmitri Young, who is batting .284 for St. Louis’ Class-A affiliate in St. Petersburg, has been moved from third base to first base. . . .

Greg Shockey was leading Riverside, Seattle’s affiliate in the California League, in batting with a .319 average when he was sidelined because of a strained knee.

Shockey, an outfielder, is back in the lineup but his average has fallen to .311.

Now in the team lead is Craig Clayton, a former teammate of Shockey’s at Cal State Northridge. Clayton, the Pilots’ third baseman, is batting .313.