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Medford's Lewis gets another shot

GREG STILES

At this time last year, Scott Lewis didn't expect to be kicking around Monterrey, Campeche, Renosa or other ports of call in the Mexican League.

He figured to be pitching either for the Anaheim Angels or their Class AAA team. But when the Angels released him on the final day of spring training, his career went south of the border.

Pitching for the Mexico City Tigers turned out well for the right-hander, who turned 32 in December. Well enough for the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays of the American League to sign him and invite him to their big-league camp.

I thought I had an exceptional year, says Lewis, a former Medford High star. I was hoping someone would notice and that's how it worked out.

Lewis has a 9-9 lifetime record with a 5.01 ERA spread over five major league seasons, but hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 1994.

The jolt of the last-minute release by the Angels was heartbreaking.

I just wasn't all that excited about playing any more, Lewis says. I had had it with baseball, so to speak. I wasn't being rewarded for my performance.

When the Mexico City Tigers called, he told them Thanks, but no thanks.

But the Tigers were persistent.

They kept calling back and offered me a nice contract, Lewis says. I knew I would pitch regularly.

And that was what he really wanted.

The expansion Arizona Diamondbacks courted Lewis early, but Tampa Bay closed the deal in October while Arizona cooled its heels.

I called the Diamondbacks and told them what Tampa was offering, he says. But they didn't want to pull the trigger.

After spending most of his career in the Angels' organization, Lewis detoured through the Oakland, Houston and Boston organizations in 1994 and 1995, then spent the 1996 season with Las Vegas, the San Diego Padres' AAA club.

I re-signed with the Angels because I thought I could contribute; I guess I wasn't in their plays, Lewis says. It was a wasted spring.

The same couldn't be said of the summer. Lewis compiled a 6-3 record with a 2.47 ERA in Mexico.

You're expected to perform well, because you're an imported player, he says. Call it pressure or whatever, I like that kind of situation where I'm responsible for carrying some of the weight of the team.

I need to pitch when there's something on the line and for me to rise to the occasion. In fact, I've asked managers in the past not to have me mop up, because I don't do well in those situations.

At this stage of his career, there will be something on the line every time he strolls out to the mound when he reports to the Devil Rays' camp in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Feb. 13.

There are two spots open in the rotation and possibly a bullpen job, Lewis says. If I'm given an opportunity, I think I can pitch in any of those roles.

One in Lewis has with the Devil Rays is his old pitching coach Chuck Hernandez is now Tampa Bay's farm director.

Chuck was with me all through the minors when I was with the Angels, Lewis says. It doesn't hurt to have someone who knows your history.

Medford fans, who remember Lewis' beanpole-build when he pitched the Black Tornado to the 1984 state championship, might not recognize him now.

In past offseasons, the 6-foot-3 Lewis has been running and lifting weights. This winter he added 40 laps in the swimming pool every other day to his regimen near his Costa Mesa, Calif., home. As a result he now tips the scale at 215 pounds -- about 75 more than in high school.

This being my last shot, I've spent time in the pool. It's something I've always wanted to do and I'm kicking myself because I didn't do it in the past, Lewis says. It's really developed my arm strength and I'd recommend it to anyone.

Lewis and his wife, Kelly, are expecting their first son in June. But there's lots of work to be done before then.

Only time will tell, he says, how it works out.