- The Washington Times - Friday, August 17, 2007

It is not hard to see what scouts like so much about Emiliano Fruto.

At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, the Cartagena, Colombia, native is an imposing figure on the mound. The right-handed pitcher can throw fastballs in mid-90s with good movement. His best pitch is either a hard curveball or his change-up. He’s got an effective slider at his disposal as well.

Fruto the thrower is a high-ceiling prospect, but molding him into Fruto the pitcher has always been the challenge.

“He’s a big, strong kid with four pitches,” said John Stearns, Fruto’s manager at Class AAA Columbus. “I think he’s going to be a big-league pitcher for a number of years. He’s still working on his command, but he’s an impressive kid for [23] years old.”

The Nationals acquired Fruto in December from Seattle along with outfielder Chris Snelling for Jose Vidro. He split last season between Class AAA Tacoma and the majors, making 23 appearances out of the Mariners bullpen.

He had a 3.18 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 45 innings with Tacoma but struggled with Seattle (5.50 ERA in 36 innings). The Mariners weren’t convinced they could get Fruto to translate his great stuff into results, so it was on to Washington and a fresh start.

“I was playing in Venezuela and I was going to the stadium when my agent called me,” Fruto said. “He said, ‘Where are you at?’ I said ‘I’m on the bus. We’ve got to go play.’ He said, ‘Are you sitting down?’

“I did not really feel bad. I had six years with Seattle, but I saw [the Nationals] on TV with [Alfonso] Soriano. My agent said with their pitchers and free agents, I could have a better chance to pitch here. When he told me that, I said, ‘All right. I’m ready to come here then.’ ”

Though Fruto hadn’t started a game since 2003 and had not been one full-time since 2001, the Nationals decided to try him in that role. Normally a guy who can throw as hard as Fruto becomes a reliever because he can’t develop more than one offspeed pitch to complement the fastball.

Members of the Nationals organization saw Fruto’s four-pitch arsenal and felt he needed another chance to start.

“We were thinking, ‘Why is this guy not a starter? Why’d they make him a closer?’ ” Stearns said. “Obviously [Seattle] did it because when goes out there for one inning at a time his fastball sits at 95, 96 miles per hour, but we just felt this guy could be a starter someday in the big leagues. He’s got a very high ceiling.”

Despite missing about six weeks with elbow inflammation, Fruto’s foray into starting was going very well for the first half of the season. It earned him a spot on the World Team in the Futures Games. He faced two batters, walking one before recording the final out of a 7-2 victory.

He has struggled since the All-Star break, allowing 28 runs in 331/3 innings. Fruto now sports a 3-9 record and a 5.26 ERA in 871/3 innings. His command continues to betray him at times, as evidenced by the 59 walks.

Having advanced to Class AAA at such a young age, there is still time for Fruto to figure out his problems. Since it has been so long since he was a starter, it might not click for him until year two. Until then, Fruto remains an enigma.

“One of the reasons we’ve given him an opportunity to start is he gets the chance to pitch more innings and to find out if he could maybe start in the big leagues,” Columbus pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “If he gets the location of his fastball with the offspeed stuff he has, I think it is a good possibility. We’re trying to give him as many chances to see hitters and get where he commands his pitches better.”

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