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Fire sale opens door for Larkin

Every time the Florida Marlins deal another high-priced star, Andy Larkin'sfuture brightens.

Daily newspaper and television reports detail the dismantling of theMarlins, who won the world championship just a month ago.

But what's sad for south Floridians isn't so bad for Larkin, a 1992 SouthMedford High graduate.

It's going to be a new team come spring training, says the23-year-old pitcher, who is a member of the Marlins' 40-man roster.

Larkin was part of the Marlins' first draft class and was rapidly risingthrough the organization's farm system. Baseball America listed Larkin asthe Marlins' No. — prospect in 1995.

Injuries derailed Larkin's progress, but he bounced back from elbow surgeryto make his first major league start in September of 1996.

His ascent was further slowed, however, when Florida owner Wayne Huizengashelled out more than $100 million for free agents, including several veteranpitchers. That ticketed Larkin for another round in the minor leagues.

Although some of his AAA Charlotte Knights teammates -- most notablyLivan Hernandez -- earned promotions, Larkin struggled in 1997. He finishedwith a 6-11 record and a 6.05 ERA.

Now Huizenga has reversed his monetary engines. The Marlins are tryingto unload high-salaried players, and the owner is trying to sell the franchise.

Closer Robb Nen was dealt to San Francisco, and starter Tony Saunderswas taken by Tampa Bay with the first pick in the expansion draft. VeteransKevin Brown and Al Leiter, both starters, and reliever Dennis Cook are onthe trading block. And starter Alex Fernandez is injured and likely willmiss the 1998 season.

That leaves plenty of opportunity for the likes of Larkin.

Our rotation is wide open, John Boles, Florida's vice presidentof player development told the Associated Press early this week. Itlooks to be a real good time to be a good young pitcher in our system.

In a phone interview with the Mail Tribune Thursday, Boles expressedconfidence that Larkin has a shot at making the Marlins' 1998 starting rotation.

No question about it, Boles says. I don't worry aboutAndy's year in AAA because he was healthy. For him to get through the seasonhealthy was the big thing. He has the off-season to rest his arm and getsome strength.

If he comes into training camp (in February) and throws like hecan, he can make that rotation.

Larkin is spending the winter in Glen Ellyn, Ill. -- 30 miles west ofChicago -- where he plans to marry Amy Iacobazzi in January.

After our honeymoon, Larkin says, I plan to go to springtraining a little early and get started.

The bottom line, as far as my situation, is that if I pitch wellenough, I'm going to be in the big leagues.

One of Larkin's biggest problems this past year was throwing strikes.Boles says the lanky right-hander dropped his arm slightly more than inthe past.

You don't think you're doing anything different and then lookingat films, you see it, Boles says. It's something you see pitchersdo to protect (a previous) injury. AAA is unforgiving. You get behind 2-0(two balls, no strikes) or 3-1 and you're going to pay for it.

Larkin hopes the lesson is learned.

He's developing a change-up to go with his fastball and curve, and hehopes to again find the strike zone.

After last season, I feel I can't get any worse, Larkin says.At times I felt like I was capable of pitching in the big leaguesfor three or four games in a row.

His desire in 1998 is to give major league hitters the same feeling.

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