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JetHawks Blend Old, New Under Parent’s Guidance

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Lancaster JetHawks, who flirted with the worst record in professional baseball last summer, have a little more to look forward to than most teams this spring.

Mark Parent, a former major league catcher, starts his first season as a manager and will guide the JetHawks through California League play, which opens today when Lancaster begins a three-game road series against the Bakersfield Blaze.

Power-hitting first baseman Peanut Williams, who hit 26 home runs and drove in 57 runs in 58 games in 1999, returns along with outfielder Harvey Hargrove, who hit .294 with 80 RBIs in 130 games. Hargrove was second on the team with 150 hits.

The JetHawks have eight players returning and another with Cal League experience on its 24-man roster.

Top newcomers include third baseman Bo Robinson, the Mariners’ minor league player of the year last season. Robinson hit .329 with 13 home runs and 102 RBIs for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

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Lancaster could be adding Terrmel Sledge, a Kennedy High graduate who is opening the season with Wisconsin but is expected to join the JetHawks. Sledge played at Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State before turning pro.

“We’ve got a good mixture of guys,” said pitching coach Scott Budner. “We’ve got some good players coming back and some good players coming up.”

While Lancaster should have plenty of offense with Williams, Hargrove and Robinson, Budner knows pitching will be key to a winning season.

Last year, the JetHawks batted .279, fourth in the 10-team league. The pitching staff surrendered more than five runs a game as Lancaster finished 55-85, the worst record in franchise history.

The JetHawks won seven of their final 10 games to finish 32-38 in the second half, last in the South Division but eighth overall. At one point, Lancaster was 35-70 and challenging for the worst record in baseball.

“This is all about development,” said Budner, who pitched in the Baltimore Orioles and San Francisco Giants organizations. “We’re going to learn how to pitch in this park. We’re going to learn how to use the pitches we command to get hitters out.”

Budner’s starting rotation will include players who pitched at Wisconsin last season. Some began the season there and pitched for Lancaster, while others started in Everett, Wash., and finished in Wisconsin.

Jeff Heaverlo, a right-hander, will draw the opening-day assignment against Bakersfield. He will be followed by fellow right-handers Chris Mears, Melqui Torres, Josue Matos and Emmanuel Ulloa. Mears was a combined 13-7 with a 4.20 earned-run average at Wisconsin and Lancaster.

Lancaster also features Brandon Parker and Neil Longo, right-handers who made solid contributions last year.

The Wisconsin connection will be strong up the middle with Vaughn Schill at shortstop and Willie Bloomquist at second. Antonio Perez, who played at Rockford, Ill., last season, is the other middle infielder.

Hargrove is joined in the outfield by former Timber Rattlers Juan Silvestre and Patrick Williams, and Michael Abate.

Catchers include Craig Kuzmic and Scott Maynard, who finished with the JetHawks last season after starting in Wisconsin, and Travis McClendon, a 28-year-old who the Mariners signed out of the independent Western League. Kuzmic can also play first, third and in the outfield.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

SEASON OPENER

JetHawks vs. Blaze

Where

Sam Lynn Ballpark

Bakersfield

When

7:15 p.m. today

Pitchers

Jeff Heaverlo

vs. Tony Cocia


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