Juneau's Chad Bentz is back in the show.
The 24-year-old rookie left-handed relief pitcher was recalled to the majors on Tuesday when the Montreal Expos placed starting pitcher Zach Day on the disabled list due to right-shoulder tendinitis and a sore elbow.
Bentz, a 1999 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate who started the season with Montreal, had been sent to the Triple-A Edmonton Trappers of the Pacific Coast League on June 24 so the Expos could bring up left-handed starter Scott Downs, who had just thrown a seven-inning no-hitter.
While in the majors earlier this season, Bentz had an 0-2 record and a 5.03 ERA in 19 2/3 innings and 31 appearances. He allowed 18 hits, gave up 11 runs (all earned), walked 14 hitters and struck out 14 batters. He also hit two batters and stranded 10 of the 13 baserunners he inherited from other pitchers.
One of the reasons Bentz was sent down was so he could work on getting out left-handed hitters on a more consistent basis. While most lefty pitchers do better against lefty hitters than they do with righties, Bentz had better numbers against right-handed hitters.
In nine innings, lefties hit .308 (12 for 39) against Bentz with two home runs and five RBIs. In 10 2/3 innings, righties hit .171 against him. During a June 11-13 visit by the Expos to Seattle, Montreal pitching coach Randy St. Claire said the Expos were working with Bentz on developing a slider to get lefties out. St. Claire said most pitchers develop and perfect the pitch in the minors, instead of learning it while in the majors.
During his short 10-day stint in the minors, Bentz only saw action in three games, recording a 3.86 ERA in 2 1/3 innings, giving up three hits, one earned run, one walk and striking out two batters.
When Bentz reported to the Expos on Tuesday in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the Expos were hosting the Atlanta Braves, Bentz was asked by MLB.com Web site reporter Bill Ladson what he had worked on in the minors to get lefty hitters out.
"I'm trying not to put pressure on myself," Bentz told Ladson. "I just need to make my pitches and execute them. If they hit a good pitch for a base hit, I did my job and they just did a good job of hitting."
While he had struggled in his first season in the majors, Bentz had shown improvement earlier this year. Bentz had an ERA of 7.04 in 11 appearances (7 2/3 innings) for April, and an ERA of 5.68 in 12 appearances (6 1/3 innings) in May. His ERA was 1.59 in eight appearances (5 2/3 innings) in June.
Bentz's return to the majors gives the Expos two lefties in the bullpen for just the third time this season.
Bentz was the only lefty in the bullpen for most of the season, with only a brief stint in May where he was joined by veteran Rigo Beltran who went on the DL a few games later. Beltran has since been sent to Edmonton.
Bentz was joined by another lefty when rookie Joe Horgan made his major league debut on June 12. When Bentz went to the minors, Horgan was the only lefty in the bullpen and he struggled with an ERA over eight until dropping his ERA to 7.71 in Tuesday's loss to the Braves.
Downs, who allowed just one unearned run in 6 1/3 innings Tuesday, also has struggled since being called up to the majors - but his ERA dropped from 18.00 to 7.94 with Tuesday's performance.
With Day on the disabled list, Montreal loses one of its more consistent starters. Day was 5-9 with a 4.04 ERA, including Monday's shelling by the Braves where he gave up eight earned runs in just 1 1/3 innings. Day is expected to miss two starts, in addition to having next week's All-Star Game break to rest.
Bentz, who was born with a deformed right hand and uses his left hand for both pitching and fielding, is just the second player who played high school or American Legion baseball in Alaska to make the major leagues. Bentz was born in Seward and lived in Palmer for a few years before his family moved to Juneau.
The first Alaska-developed player to make the majors was Kenai Central High School graduate Marshall Boze, a right-handed relief pitcher who spent part of the 1994 season with the Milwaukee Brewers. Several current major leaguers were born in Anchorage - including Boston starter Curt Schilling, Colorado closer Shawn Chacon and Toronto designated hitter Josh Phelps - but they developed their baseball skills in the Lower 48.
The Juneau Empire sports desk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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