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Oyler back on familiar ground

This time last year, the coin was rotating in Scott Oyler's mind.

Oyler had just finished up his college eligibility at Portland State University and was weighing whether to sign a minor league contract with the Oakland Athletics or Florida Marlins.

the time the undrafted free agent signed with Oakland and was assigned to the Southern Oregon Timberjacks, the Northwest League's first pitch was headed to the plate.

I missed the (preseason) camp and didn't know anybody, Oyler says. It took a while to learn names.

He begins this year a step ahead.

Oyler, who is from the Portland suburb of Milwaukie, and a dozen or so Timberjack teammates arrived in Medford Thursday for the start of weeklong workouts at Miles Field. They'll embark on what appears to be the Medford franchise's final season June 18 at Eugene.

I know what to expect now, says Oyler, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound, right-handed relief pitcher.

Oyler, 23, fashioned a 4-4 record in 22 appearances last year, second among Timberjack pitchers to closer Jim Brink.

Oyler's 3.48 ERA was a full run lower than the team's collective 4.48 ERA in 76 games.

I really couldn't have been happier with the amount of innings I got to pitch last year, he says.

But his 29 walks in 54 innings may have delayed a trip to long-season Class A ball in Modesto or Visalia of the California League.

If I could have it the way I want, I would spend a year at each level, Oyler says. Right now, I don't know what it takes, other than just to prove myself and hopefully continue.

Being a right-hander, it takes even more persistence. Of the 21 pitchers who worked for Southern Oregon last year, 16 were right-handers.

It makes it tougher to move up, Oyler says.

A term short of earning his degree in health education, Oyler hit the weights hard in the winter and bulked up 14 pounds from what he weighed last September.

He was disappointed but undaunted by his assignment to extended spring training in Arizona, which began a month later than regular spring training.

He spent April and May acquainting himself with the strike zone.

I walked quite a few guys last year, Oyler concedes. That's one reason I'm back here in Medford. I needed better location with my fastball when I (had a count of) 2-1 or 3-0.

Better yet, he needed to get ahead from the get-go.

The whole idea is not to get to three-ball counts, says Oyler, who often went with a slider deep in the count last year because he had more confidence that he could get it in the strike zone. They kept track of how many I got for the whole spring.

His attention to detail has paid off.

The last month or so, I feel I've had good command of my fastball, Oyler says. More and more, I've been able to spot the ball and not be so predictable. I've gotten more movement and a little sink that I've never had before, and I'm getting more ground balls.

Now he just has to do it when manager Greg Sparks and pitching coach Gil Lopez call his number.

After 2 1/2 months in Phoenix, he says, I was looking forward to coming home.