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PRO BASEBALL / JEFF FLETCHER : Kloek Saw Fit to Fix His Arm

Never underestimate the benefits of a little arthroscopic surgery.

Kevin Kloek pitched for El Paso in the double-A Texas League with a fragile arm last season, and he finally gave in to the pain late in the year, ending his season with a 4.11 earned-run average.

The former Cal State Northridge pitcher underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in September and returned to his El Paso teammates in July with a new arm. In his first seven starts, he was 4-0 with a 3.45 ERA.

“I don’t see much difference as far as the style of pitching,” said Rob Dirksen, El Paso’s pitching coach the past two seasons, “but I feel he is pitching with more confidence knowing that he has a healthy arm. He’s not trying to overcompensate.

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“Last year he was trying to hide from a sore arm, trying to conceal it, but now he feels healthy and you can see it in his face. He’s not grimacing when he throws the ball.”

Kloek, 24, was a fourth-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1992 and he breezed through his first summer at Class-A Beloit, Wis., with a 10-1 record and 2.11 ERA. But when he began to struggle last season at El Paso, something seemed wrong.

“It slowly built up and got worse,” Kloek said. “I had felt the same thing before in college, but working out and lifting made it just go away.”

Kloek had an impingement in his shoulder, meaning muscles and other soft tissue in the shoulder were pinched together. It is one of the most common injuries to pitchers and it usually is a result of overuse.

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After the surgery in September, Kloek went home to Santa Barbara for rehabilitation.

He was ready to pitch again by June, when he reported to the Brewers’ rookie-league team in Chandler, Ariz. After a few starts, he was promoted to El Paso, where he has been throwing about 100 pitches per start. Dirksen has been pleased with the results.

“Kevin is a very good, mature pitcher,” Dirksen said. “He knows what he’s doing on the mound. He knows what he has to do to win with his abilities.”

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Swing-less in San Jose: Jacob Cruz (Channel Islands) has had a much-too-leisurely summer in the California League. After 21 games, he learned he had a stress fracture in his left elbow and has spent the last month helplessly watching San Jose Giant games.

“I like being with the team,” Cruz said, “but now it is really bothering me that I’m not in the lineup, not playing, not doing anything.”

Cruz started swinging a bat this week. He had been traveling with the team, although he couldn’t take batting practice or take infield or play pepper or even play catch, much less play in a game.

A supplemental first-round pick of the San Francisco Giants in June, Cruz signed in early July and was hitting .253 at Class-A San Jose when he finally went to the team trainer about the mysterious pain in his elbow.

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“I didn’t know what it was,” he said. “I just thought it was a normal soreness.”

Cruz said he hopes to be able to play this week or in time for the playoffs, which begin the week of Sept. 5.

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Moving up: At first, Keith Smith was overmatched in professional baseball. But that didn’t last long. Smith (Newbury Park) improved his hitting so much during the past month that he was promoted from rookie-level Bristol, Va., to Class-A Fayetteville, N.C..

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“He has a good arm. He can run. We are very impressed with him,” said David Miller, Detroit Tiger director of minor-league operations.

Smith, the leading high school passer in California history, was raw as a baseball player when the Tigers drafted him in the fifth round in June. And it showed when he struggled to reach .200 in his first month at Bristol.

But Smith adjusted and raised his average to .263 through Monday. He was promoted Tuesday and was two for five in his debut in the South Atlantic League. Smith will play the final two weeks of the season at Fayetteville, then report to the Tigers’ fall Instructional League camp.

“I think he’s improved,” Miller said. “When they are improving like that, you like to keep them going from one step to the next.”

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Moving down: In spring training, the Seattle Mariners were so high on relief pitcher Craig Clayton that they figured he would be in the major leagues soon.

Now, he’s in Class A.

Clayton (Cal State Northridge), a converted third baseman, started the season at double-A Jacksonville, Fla., but he was injured, then pitched badly and was shipped down to Riverside.

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“He’s been inconsistent,” said Jim Beattie, Seattle’s farm director. “Things came so naturally last year and now that he’s been struggling, things have gotten away from him.”

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The Mariners haven’t given up on Clayton, who is 1-1, with a 6.48 ERA in 25 innings at Riverside. They will send him to the Instructional League this fall.

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Short hops: Brian Harrison (Ventura College) asked for and was granted his release by the independent San Bernardino Spirit on Aug. 17. Harrison, who was 5-1 with a 3.86 ERA, would have been unable to pitch again this season anyway because he needed surgery to remove bone spurs in his elbow. . . .

Pitcher Ray Young (Moorpark College) was released twice this season. The Florida Marlins released him from triple-A Edmonton in late July, after the Oakland A’s released him from triple-A Tacoma. He finished 1-3 with a 6.68 ERA. . . .

Dave Landaker (Royal) will not be making his third consecutive appearance in the Houston Astros’ Instructional League. The Astros canceled their Instructional League, reportedly to save money lost because of the players’ strike. Other teams to scrap their fall leagues because of the strike are Boston, Kansas City, Minnesota, Texas, Houston, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Cincinnati.


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