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Tuesday, August 22, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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M's farm report: Bibens-Dirkx makes the most of Tacoma outing

Seattle Times staff

He had been nervous all day, his stomach churning.

This was likely going to be a one-night show for Austin Bibens-Dirkx, and he wanted to make the most of it.

The 16th-round draft pick by the Seattle Mariners was pitching for short-season Class A Everett when he was asked to drive about 90 minutes south on June 24 to join Class AAA Tacoma, which had just played some extra-inning games and was short on pitching.

"I knew I wasn't going to be there long, but I knew it would be a great opportunity for me," said Bibens-Dirkx, a lifelong Mariners fan who grew up in Salem, Ore., and played for the University of Portland.

Less than three weeks after being drafted, Bibens-Dirkx found himself one level below the big leagues, pitching the final two innings against Portland. After allowing two hits, he struck out the side, then struck out two more in a scoreless ninth.

That has been the highlight of an outstanding first year of pro ball for Bibens-Dirkx. He was promoted from Everett to Class A Wisconsin less than a week after his one-day outing with Tacoma.

"I was surprised to move up so quickly, but honestly, I think a lot of that had to do with what I did in the Triple-A game," he said.

With Wisconsin, Bibens-Dirkx is 1-2 with a 2.42 earned-run average. He has struck out 31 and walked four in 26 innings. Overall, he has struck out 42 and walked six in throwing 32 innings for the three teams.

"I've just been trying to throw strikes," he said. "I've never had that kind of ratio before."

It would have been hard to predict this much success for Bibens-Dirkx based on his one year at Portland after transferring from Chemeketa Community College in Salem. He was 1-5 for the Pilots despite having a team-best 4.19 ERA and seven saves.

"To be honest, the big difference is the wood bats," Bibens-Dirkx said of hitters in the minor leagues. "With the wood bats, it's easier to get away with a mistake. I have also gotten a lot of help from Lance Painter, our pitching coach, and [former Mariner] Norm Charlton, a roving instructor. They have really tried to teach me the importance of pitching inside, and I think I am throwing my pitches a lot crisper."

Bibens-Dirkx throws sidearm and said his fastball tops out between 90 and 93 mph.

"I was kind of tired at the end of the college season and my velocity was down to 88 to 90, but I took a couple of weeks off after the season and my arm got a second wind," he said.

Despite playing for Portland and three minor-league teams in the past few months, Bibens-Dirkx said he feels great.

"I am really enjoying it here," he said of Wisconsin. "We would like to be winning a few more games, but the people here in Appleton are great and we have a good fan base. And, I am performing well, which also makes it nice."

Around the organization (All statistics through Sunday)

TACOMA RAINIERS, Class AAA

Last week: 4-4. Overall: 69-59 in Pacific Coast League. Second place in Northern Division, 4 games back.

Noteworthy: RHP Jon Huber had one save this past week to give him a team-leading 11. He had 11 with San Antonio before getting promoted in June. He is 3-0 with the Rainiers, with a 1.88 earned-run average over 38-1/3 innings. He has struck out 35 and walked seven. Huber, 25, was traded to the M's by the San Diego Padres in 2004 for Dave Hansen. ... RHP Francisco Cruceta tied Cha Seung Baek for the team lead in victories in a 7-1 win over Las Vegas on Saturday. Cruceta improved to 12-8 after allowing four hits and one earned run in 7-1/3 innings. Cruceta lowered his season ERA to 4.21.

SAN ANTONIO MISSIONS, Class AA

Last week: 2-5. Overall: 26-30 in second half in Texas League. Fourth in Southern, 6 games back.

Noteworthy: The Missions snapped a 12-game losing streak Thursday in a 4-2 win over Wichita. ... 3B Matt Tuiasosopo, a Woodinville High graduate and former UW football recruit, continues to struggle. He is hitting .192 with San Antonio in 172 at-bats, with no home runs and eight runs batted in. He was hitting .306 in 232 at-bats with Inland Empire when he was promoted to San Antonio in late June. He has a combined 33 errors and has been playing primarily at third base in recent weeks after starting the season at shortstop.

INLAND EMPIRE 66ERS, Class A

Last week: 4-3. Overall: 27-28 in second half in California League. Third place in South, 1- games back.

Noteworthy: LHP Justin Thomas, a fourth-round draft pick in 2005, threw the first complete game of his career, throwing a four-hitter in a 2-0 victory over Rancho Cucamonga. Thomas struck out seven, walked two and lowered his ERA to 4.20. He was 5-5 with a 3.10 ERA for Wisconsin before being promoted in June.

WISCONSIN TIMBER RATTLERS, Class A

Last week: 3-4. Overall: 19-38 in second half in Midwest League. Seventh in Western, 15- games back.

Noteworthy: SS Chris Minaker, an Edmonds-Woodway graduate who went on to star at Stanford, has improved his average from .233 to .296 in the past eight days, going 13 of 25. He had a three-game stretch where he was 11 of 12, including hits in seven consecutive plate appearances. The 10th-round pick was the second position player selected by Seattle in June.

EVERETT AQUASOX, Short-season Class A

Last week: 3-3. Overall: 28-32 in Northwest League. Fourth place in West, 14 games back.

Noteworthy: RHP Chris Tillman, the M's second-round draft pick in June, threw six shutout innings Thursday in his second start. He allowed one hit in the 8-5 win over Yakima and struck out 10.

Scott Hanson: 206-464-2943 or shanson@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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AL West W L Pct. GB Div. Streak
y-LA Angels 100 62 .617 --- 36-21 Won 1
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Oakland 75 86 .466 24.5 26-31 Lost 5
Seattle 61 101 .377 39 22-35 Won 3

y - clinched division, x - clinched playoff berth

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