Doug Drabek, 1990 Cy Young Award winner and Hillsboro Hops pitching coach, would be a happy man if his Class A team's starters would just meet him in the middle.

"We're trying to teach them how to get to the middle of a game, to the sixth or seventh inning," he says. "For the most part, they'e been doing a good job."

The Hops were 3-8 going into a Wednesday doubleheader at Boise, but they have the lowest ERA (2.77) in the Northwest League. The starters have had some bad innings, but they also have kept the team in a lot of games. The Hops have had five one-run losses and two two-run losses. And they lead the league in errors.

Drabek, 50, has a starting corps whose average age is 20. He preaches pitch counts, pitching to contact, consistency, level-headedness and having a game plan.

The NWL is for young pitchers "to get their feet wet in pro ball," he says. "At this level, you're not going to have many complete games (the Hops have had one, seven-inning complete game). You have to learn how to pitch in a close game, with a lead, when you're behind.

"You mostly have to learn how to have efficient innings. How to make a good pitch that's down in the zone instead of trying to pitch where the batter can't hit it, because that's when you end up not throwing to a target. Then you get behind in the count and end up with either walks or you throw something in there for the batter to really hit.

"We want you to pitch to contact, get the ball in play and get earlier outs."

The starters have been Jose Martinez ("good arm, mid- to upper-90 mphs … needs to trust all his stuff, mix things up," Drabek says), Austin Platt (began the year in the bullpen), Ross Gerdeman, Jonathan Pulley, Karl Triana and Ben Eckels.

The Arizona Diamondbacks' top two draft picks this year, Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair, are due to make their debuts next month.

The current starting contingent has pitched a total of 63 2/3 innings in 11 games, giving up 52 hits and 19 runs (2.69 ERA), with 25 walks and 53 strikeouts.

Drabek says he doesn't dwell on miscues in the field.

"I never say anything bad about the defense. As a pitcher, I always trusted them, and everybody's going to make mistakes," he says. "Our guys have to learn how to pick the defense up, because the defense can pick them up, too. That's where your team thing comes into play."

Drabek says he spends "a lot" of time working on mechanics with pitchers at this level, but he doesn't blow up anyone's form and try to make big changes in a short period of time.

"Some guys may need to change more than one thing, not just make one big, huge change," he says. "Some guys may have one little thing they do that causes them to be inconsistent."

And, he says, "at this level, you're going to see mistakes — these guys are still trying to find out about themselves, what they need to do to get to the next level. It's a learning process."

Martinez, 19, is a 6-1, 160-pounder from the Dominican Republic. His heat can be tough for some to handle, but Drabek would like to see him use his curveball in different ways.

"A lot of younger guys are used to throwing the breaking ball for strikeouts or swings-and-misses. I'd like them to learn to throw their breaking ball for a strike early in the count," Drabek says.

Platt, a 21-year-old from Englewood, Colo., is in his third pro season. He went the seven-inning distance in a losing (3-2) effort to open a doubleheader last week at the Everett AquaSox.

"He's been throwing well for us," Drabek says. "He's done a good job of buying into pitching to contact. He has a low- to mid-90s fastball, and just needs to trust the movement over the plate."

Gerdeman, 23, played at Bowling Green State and also is in his third pro season.

"He's had some solid outings," Drabek says. "He started out just throwing the ball instead of having a plan or idea what he wanted to do with the next pitch. Especially when guys get on base, pitchers have a tendency to just start throwing instead of pitching with a purpose."

Pulley, 20, from Spartanburg, S.C., "was a little inconsistent with his delivery leaving extended spring (training), not finishing his pitches toward the plate. But he threw strikes for us his first time out and got into the seventh inning, which he hadn't done."

Triana, 20, is from Colombia.

"He struggled his first game, got the ball up," Drabek says. "He's not one of our harder throwers, so it's important for him to keep the ball down and move it in and out. Then he came on in relief and did an excellent job, and got a spot start the other day and did an excellent job of having efficient innings and sticking with the game plan."

Eckels, 19, from Woodland, Calif., "has a little different arm action," Drabek says. "He throws 88 to 93 (mph), but his fastball has real good movement and he's got a couple of breaking balls. He's got to learn which one is his strike pitch and which one is his put-away pitch."

Happy birthday

June 30, 1933 — Don Head, former Portland Buckaroos goalie, three-time outstanding goalie of the year in the Western Hockey League and member of the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame (age 80)

July 3, 1962 — Charlie Sitton, former Oregon State basketball star from McMinnville High (age 51)

July 2, 1989 — Alex Morgan, U.S. national team and Portland Thorns FC forward (age 24)

Oregon sports history

Decathlon disaster

June 27, 1992

• Favorite Dan OBrien of Klamath Falls fails to make the U.S. Olympic team when he misses all three attempts at his opening pole-vault height of 15 feet, 9 inches at the Trials in New Orleans.

“I felt real numb at first,” he says. “I wanted to turn to somebody and say, ‘Do something. This shouldn’t be happening to me.’ “

A $25 million “Dan and Dave” advertising campaign with Reebok falls flat, too, even though Corvallis’ Dave Johnson wins with a Trials-record 8,649 points.

“When he no-heighted, a part of me was gone, too,” Johnson says.


June 29, 2007

• Fans pack Pioneer Courthouse Square to welcome No. 1 draft pick Greg Oden, the Trail Blazers’ new center.

“I can’t wait to play, and win,” he tells the crowd.

“It’s going to be quite a ride,” predicts Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard.

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Twitter: @sbrandonsports

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