His favorite pastime is "joking around and making people laugh," but on the mound Chad Paronto is strictly business.
A 6-foot-5, 250-pound right-hander, he is one of the biggest reasons why Frederick's pitching staff is nothing to chuckle at and why the Keys are battling for the first-half title in the Northern Division of the Single-A Carolina League.
After mediocre results at Delmarva last season, Paronto has emerged as a force with a 1.98 ERA, third in the league, four wins in five decisions and a near 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has permitted only two extra-base hits.
"The difference is that he is more aggressive within the strike zone," Frederick pitching coach Larry Jaster said. "All his pitches are improved and more consistent."
"I wasn't happy with my season last year," said Paronto, who was 6-9 with a 4.74 ERA in '97. "Now, I'm throwing more strikes in key situations. When I was in Australia this winter, Tom Trebelhorn really instilled in me to go after guys."
Paronto said he had a tendency to try to finesse batters in 1997 when he didn't have to. He is also depending more on a changeup.
He knows he has had the luxury of effective bullpens both at Delmarva and Frederick but goes out to "pitch seven or eight innings" each time. "I'm not satisfied with being average," he said.
An eighth-round draft choice in 1996, Paronto was an all-state basketball player in New Hampshire, but there wasn't any doubt which sport he would choose to pursue.
"I had some offers to play [basketball] at smaller schools," he said. "But I wanted baseball. I thought I had a better chance to be successful."
An imposing figure, Paronto models himself after Scott Erickson. "He's what I'd like to be," said the 22-year-old. "We sort of throw the same although he's a lot better. I admire his poise and work ethic."
He needs both poise and work ethic in the off-season when he works for his dad, who owns a building company. "It gives you a little bit of character when you're working outside and it's 10 degrees back home," he said.
With the return of Charlie Greene from the Orioles and Melvin Rosario from the disabled list, Triple-A Rochester has a full complement of catchers. The third one, Julio Vinas, has been playing first base in place of Bo Dodson (back spasms). Dodson had 12 hits in a recent four-game series. 3B Willis Otanez continues to play every inning. He turned hot again with three homers in two days and leads the team in average, homers and RBIs. Nerio Rodriguez gained his first win, 12-5, over Durham behind a 19-hit attack. P. J. Forbes is receiving more time at shortstop after playing exclusively at second base. The pitching staff has allowed 50 homers, 37 of them with the bases empty. Rochester has hit only 30. Kevin Gallaher's 34 walks lead the International League. Former Oriole Richie Lewis served a three-game suspension for hitting a batter. OF Danny Clyburn -- on the disabled list since breaking his foot in spring training -- has returned and former Oriole Dwight Smith has signed a Triple-A contract.
Double-A Bowie has been getting abysmal performances from its starting pitchers. The team had not been even in any game after the fourth inning in a week. In one turn of the rotation, the Baysox received a 12-pitch, no-strike start, a six-run opposing first inning when Matt Snyder made his pro starting debut, a five-homer allowance in four innings by Chris Fussell and a six-run yield by Eric Estes in 2 1/3 . Help has arrived with the return of Rocky Coppinger and Brian Sackinsky from extended spring training. OF D. C. Conner hit for the cycle in four consecutive innings against Reading, finishing with the triple. OF Eugene Kingsale posted a .430 on-base percentage over a 19-game stretch and topped his season high with 19 RBIs. Francisco Hernandez allowed one run in 14 1/3 innings of relief. 1B Calvin Pickering has picked it up, batting .304 over 92 at-bats after starting 4-for-41.
Paronto is not the only Frederick starter on a roll. Josh Towers has allowed two or fewer runs in five straight starts, and Josh McNatt has allowed two or fewer in six straight starts. Americo Peguero, Delmarva's winningest starter last season, is scheduled to join Frederick today.
The bullpen failed Single-A Delmarva in a crucial series at Cape Fear that left the Shorebirds seven games behind the Crocs with three weeks to go in the first half. Delmarva was outscored 39-17 in a four-game series, the relief corps permitting 20 runs. After changing his uniform number from 40 to 24, OF Darnell McDonald had a two-hit game, then his first homer of the year. C Jayson Werth is on a rampage, raising his average to .339 over a 10-day span and moving to third in the South Atlantic League in on-base percentage (.448). DH Daren Hooper struck out in 11 straight games and 17 times in 34 at-bats. 1B Frank Figueroa did not walk in his first 169 at-bats.
Pub Date: 5/25/98