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Opening Day belongs to pitchers

Lester, Townsend begin comebacks with stellar outings
April 6, 2007
It was almost unfair for hitters on the Lake Elsinore Storm and Dunedin Blue Jays to start their seasons against the likes of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.

The Charleston RiverDogs weren't much luckier as they faced Jon Lester.

These rehabbing Major Leaguers turned in dominant performances, setting the tone for an Opening Night full of stellar pitching in the Minors. Two pitchers tossed five innings of no-hit ball, two made their professional debuts and two others returned to the mound after missing most or all of last season due to injury.

And the much-publicized prospects Phil Hughes, Yovani Gallardo and Homer Bailey have yet to pitch.

If 2006 was The Year of the No-Hitter, who knows what's in store for 2007, given Thursday's Opening Night pitching performances.

Colon, who is making his way back to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim from rotator cuff surgery, mowed down the Storm for four innings. The burly right-hander struck out five while yielding just one hit and one walk for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.

On the other side of the country, Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Garcia struck out seven over 3 1/3 scoreless frames for the Clearwater Threshers. Acquired from the Chicago White Sox in the offseason, he's trying to shake off a case of right biceps tendinitis that has dogged him since March 23.

In one of the more compelling stories of the young season, Lester began his road to recovery from anaplastic large cell lymphoma in Charleston, S.C. by pitching four scoreless innings for the Greenville Drive. The Boston Red Sox southpaw fanned five while reaching 96 mph on the radar gun at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Ballpark.

"I felt good out there," Lester said. "There were a little jitters, but overall I was feeling really good. I'm about as close as you can get to feeling 100 percent."

In Columbus, Ga., former first-round draft pick Wade Townsend made his first start after missing all of last season following Tommy John elbow surgery. The 23-year-old Rice University product got the win in the Catfish's 6-1 triumph over the Kannapolis Intimidators, striking out six over five scoreless innings.

"When you're away that long, you don't realize how much you miss it," Townsend said. "Getting back out there was a big step mentally. I just wanted to play again and have fun doing it. It was just so much fun to be around the team again."

Higher in the Devil Rays' organization, the Durham Bulls nearly experienced deja vu as they sent Jason Hammel to the mound in their International League opener. Hammels, who combined with Juan Salas on a nine-inning no-hitter last July, looked like he'd turn the trick again.

The big right-hander tossed five hitless innings against the Syracuse Chiefs, striking out seven without issuing a walk. Tim Corcoran kept the gem alive for two more frames before John-Ford Griffin led off the eighth with a single.

Griffin scored the tying run, then delivered an RBI double in the ninth as Syracuse pulled out a 2-1 win.

Kyle Waldrop of the Fort Myers Miracle matched Hammels, striking out seven over five hitless innings against the Sarasota Reds. A few miles north, blue chip prospect Andrew Miller hurled five scoreless innings and got the win in the Lakeland Flying Tigers' rain-shortended 3-0 victory over the Tampa Yankees.

While all these pitchers are no strangers to the Minor Leagues, a few youngsters made prominent professional debuts. Deolis Guerra, a 17-year-old right-hander, fanned five in five scoreless innings for the St. Lucie Mets. Another 17-year-old, left-hander Brett Anderson, yielded one run in 5 2/3 innings for the South Bend Silver Hawks but took the hard-luck loss against the Great Lakes Loons.

Here is a list of other notable 2007 Opening Night pitching performances:

Pitcher, Team
Pitcher, Team
Brett Anderson, South Bend (L)5.25116  Mitch Atkins, Daytona (W)6.04214
Pedro Beato, Delmarva5.02026  Dallas Braden, Midland (W)6.02126
Sean Burnett, Indianapolis (W)5.06013  Adam Cowart, Augusta (W)5.04104
Scott Elbert, Jacksonville (L)6.04319  Brandon Erbe, Frederick6.03123
Carlos Fisher, Sarasota (W)7.03013  Sean Gallagher, Tennessee (W)5.24015
Deolis Guerra, St. Lucie5.02005  Beau Hale, Bowie6.01015
Jason Hammel, Durham5.00007  Matt Harrison, Mississippi5.03116
David Huff, Kinston4.01133  Jared Hughes, Hickory (W)5.05004
Philip Humber, New Orleans (W)5.01134  Joe Martinez, San Jose (W)5.02036
Kyle McCulloch, Winston-Salem5.05012  Jacob McGee, Vero Beach3.02044
Dustin McGowan, Syracuse5.02028  Andrew Miller, Lakeland (W)5.03003
Hayden Penn, Norfolk5.02226  Wade Townsend, Columbus (W)5.02016
Kyle Waldrop, Fort Myers5.00007  Sean Watson, Dayton5.07106

Michael Echan is a contributor to