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BASEBALL / STEVE HENSON : Rossiter Thrown a Curve

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The Grand Plan is on hold, thrown a curve as wicked as the one that seduced the Oakland Athletics in the first place.

The plan was no different than that of any first-round draft choice. Right-handed pitcher Mike Rossiter had this to say days after being the A’s first selection in the 1991 draft:

“In three to four years, I’d like to see myself in the major leagues. I’m willing to go out there and work my tail off and do whatever it takes to get there.”

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That he has. Rossiter has pitched very well. He just didn’t count on the elbow surgery. And the shoulder injury. Perhaps all caused by throwing the hellacious curveball that caught the eye of scout Craig Wallenbrock when Rossiter was pitching for Burroughs High.

“He has the best curveball I’ve ever seen in a high school kid,” Wallenbrock said in the heady days after the draft, when the A’s took the 6-foot-6 Rossiter with a supplemental pick as compensation for losing Type A free agent Willie McGee to the San Francisco Giants.

The knee-buckling curve, plus an 88 m.p.h. fastball, enabled Rossiter to strike out 103 batters in 60 innings his senior year and earn him honors as The Times’ Valley pitcher of the year.

His ascent was to be swift. Perhaps not as swift as that of Todd Van Poppel, but by 1995, Rossiter figured he and Van Poppel would be members of the same rotation.

Instead, Rossiter, 22, is gingerly throwing in the bullpen at Modesto, the A’s Class-A affiliate in the California League. He is about to come off the disabled list after missing the past six weeks with a rotator cuff injury that was nearly career-threatening.

“I think I was overcompensating after my elbow problems and my shoulder got tight,” said Rossiter, referring to the elbow injury that sidelined him all of 1994. “But if I come back and do well, I will be a better and stronger pitcher.”

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Before the shoulder injury, Rossiter posted a 3-0 record and 2.30 earned-run average, striking out 29 in 31 innings. In 1993 at Modesto, he was 8-6 and averaged a strikeout an inning.

Rossiter also has a strong mind. The delay in his Grand Plan has not dampened his optimism.

“Honestly, my stuff is better now than before the injuries,” he said. “My control is better than before the elbow surgery. My coaches told me my velocity would come back on its own, and it has.

“I’ve developed a cut fastball, giving me four pitches and allowing me to throw fewer curveballs. The main thing is for me to be healthy.”

Rossiter plans to finish the season at Modesto, pitch winter ball in Arizona and play at double-A Huntsville, Ala., next year.

The Grand Plan remains; it is just taking longer than expected.

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Another tall 22-year-old right-hander drafted in 1991 who has not advanced beyond Class A is Erik Hiljus. Control problems, not injuries, have kept the former Canyon High pitcher from rising through the New York Mets’ organization.

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Hiljus, however, appears due for a promotion. In 95 innings for St. Lucie, Fla., he has 85 strikeouts and has given up 45 walks and only 70 hits. He’s 7-3 with a 3.02 earned-run average.

Those numbers earned Hiljus a berth in the Florida State League all-star game June 24, where he pitched 1 2/3 hitless innings.

The former fourth-round draft pick also pitched at St. Lucie last season, leading the Mets’ organization in walks with 90. But the 6-5 Hiljus also struck out 140 in 161 innings and posted a record of 11-10 with an ERA of 3.98.

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Short hops: Brent Cookson (Santa Paula High), who was batting .300 and leading the Pacific Coast League with 15 home runs, was shipped from the San Francisco Giants to the Kansas City Royals recently, completing a trade. Cookson started six for 11 at Omaha, a Royal farm club.

Nate Dishington (Hoover), a second-round draft choice of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1993, leads Savannah, Ga., of the South Atlantic League in doubles, triples, home runs and runs batted in.

* Contributing: Jeff Fletcher.

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