Cortney Arruda’s spot start turned into a job audition that he aced for the Hawaii Stars, who are finally finding wind on their sails, snapping a seven-game losing streak during a productive road trip to Maui.
The right-hander’s two-hitter in an 8-2 victory over Na Koa Ikaika Maui on Sunday highlighted a Pacific Association baseball six-game series at Iron Maehara Stadium on Maui, with the Stars taking four games.
Arruda got his first start for the Stars as a fill-in for Ronnie Loeffler, who injured his elbow against Maui during the previous series in Hilo. He’s expected to take an X-ray to determine the condition of his elbow.
Loeffler is not likely to start in a pair of three-game sets against the East Bay Lumberjacks and Santa Rosa Rosebuds, semi-pro teams from San Francisco.
The first game against East Bay begins at 5:30 p.m. today at Wong Stadium. Dallas Mahan (1-0, 2.45 ERA), who earned his 50th win in independent pro ball last Tuesday in the series-opener against Maui, is scheduled to start.
Arruda pitched the first complete game for the Stars, throwing 126 pitches. He allowed two unearned runs on two hits and two walks, and he struck out six. He’s 1-2 with a 3.85 ERA in seven games.
“Cortney surpassed all expectations. It was supposed to be a staff day with the pitchers going two innings,” manager Garry Templeton Jr. said. “He did a tremendous job, keeping them off-balanced and had them popping up. He was throwing strikes on all counts, and pitched like a veteran.
“We got strong pitching, took advantage of some of Na Koa’s mistakes and came together. We’re starting to jell as a team.”
And nothing glues a team together like a complete-game gem. It not only gave Hawaii’s bullpen a much-needed day off, but also earned Arruda a spot in the rotation.
“I felt good on Maui and hit my spots,” said Arruda, who was a starting pitcher during the AJA league. “I wanted to start at the beginning of the season, but G2 (Templeton) said he wanted me to be a long reliever.
“I’m excited to start. I’m not sure when I’ll start. G2 hasn’t told me yet. But it’s good that my family will know the day I’ll pitch.”
Meanwhile, outfielder Katsuaki Furuki continues to swing a hot stick for the Stars. The 32-year-old leads the team with a .391 batting average. He has one homer and 17 RBIs in 12 games.
Furuki played 10 years in Nippon Professional Baseball from 1999 to 2009, spending eight seasons with the Yokohama Bay Stars and two years with the Orix Blue Wave, Ichiro Suzuki’s old team.
“He’s as advertised,” Templeton said. “He played in Japan’s big leagues for a reason. He has a lot of talent. He’s a gamer and battles with the best of them at the plate. He’s patient and doesn’t try to do too much. He hits the ball to all fields, and if the pitchers make a mistake he makes them pay.”
The Stars are 6-12 in the league standings, behind the San Rafael Pacifics (12-3) and Maui (12-6) and ahead of the Vallejo Admirals (3-10). All games against non-league opponents count in the standings.
Hawaii also has a new look with two recently signed players: shortstop Felix Brown, and right-handed pitcher Andrew Preimesberger. Brown is from St. Maarten, an island in the Netherlands Antilles. He played college ball at Ohio Dominican University and was on the French national team.
“They’ve been working out pretty good,” Templeton said. “Felix played in an independent league in Japan. I ran a winter ball program in Puerto Rico, and I had Felix, our first baseman Marshall McDonald and our closer Brian Escanio.”
Adding new players to a roster means firing someone, putting Templeton into the uncomfortable role of human resources manager. Last Monday before the trip to Maui, outfielder Darling Read, third baseman Taylor Oldham and pitcher Keith DeMorgandie were released.
“That’s the worst part of the job. But it’s something that has to be done,” Templeton said. “A lot of times guys know that it’s a performance issue. They know it’s a business. We pay them to perform. That’s their job, and they’re not getting it done.
“But it’s not always smooth, though. It’s a part of the game.”
At least on a bright note, the Stars are playing better ball.
“Everybody is excited to get back home and put up wins and work our way up to .500,” Templeton said.