Bruso knows way to San Jose |

Bruso knows way to San Jose

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

Leaving spring training on Sunday morning, former South Tahoe High pitcher Greg Bruso strangely found himself looking forward to a 13-hour bus ride over a brisk flight out of Sky-Harbor International Airport in Phoenix.

A jet ride out of Phoenix would have sent the 22-year-old to Hagerstown, Md. But at the end of the tedious bus ride was a preferred minor league destination — San Jose.

“It’s not too bad at all. I’m glad to be on this bus trip and it will be the longest one of the year,” said Bruso by cellphone on Sunday afternoon as the team bus approached the outskirts of Los Angeles.

The Class A assignment in San Jose gives Bruso’s family and friends ample opportunities to watch the rising Giants’ prospect pitch — unlike last year when he pitched 12 hours away in Keizer, Ore. It will be his first full season of professional ball.

“This has been my goal all along to get to San Jose,” said Bruso, who won the earned run average title with a 1.99 effort last year while pitching for Salem-Keizer in the Northwest League. “It’s relatively close to Tahoe and I’ll have family there, my brother (Brian) lives in San Francisco and some family and friends live around the area.”

Paul Bruso, owner of Ernie’s Coffee Shop in South Lake Tahoe, doesn’t plan to miss his son’s opening start.

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“There wouldn’t have been a lot of trips to Maryland,” Paul said. “We were really pleased for two reasons: he’s going to be close by and secondly, it’s a step up for him to be sent to San Jose. I’m just really happy for him. He realizes that they are recognizing his hard work.”

The San Jose gig also gives Bruso the warmth of California and a mental edge knowing he won’t have to make the typical 7- to 14-hour roadtrips that Hagerstown players must endure.

“I think our farthest bus ride is six hours to Lake Elsinore,” Bruso said.

Team officials told Bruso on Saturday that he was bound for San Jose but haven’t revealed their immediate pitching plans for the 2002 16th-round draft choice out of UC-Davis.

“I believe I’m in the starting rotation, but that’s not for sure,” he said. “I haven’t heard about when I’ll pitch and in what role.”

If Bruso starts in the opening series this week in Stockton, he’s certain it won’t be on opening day Thursday. He’s hopeful of getting the ball on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

“If I do start, I’ll be throwing a 60-70 pitch count and I’ll work my way up from there,” Bruso said.

San Jose is managed by Jack Lind, who was originally slated to skipper the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. However, former San Jose manager Billy Hayes was called up by the Giants to serve as the team’s bullpen catcher. Jerry Cram is San Jose’s pitching coach and former Giant F.P. Santangelo is the team’s hitting instructor.

During his extended two-month spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz., Bruso worked on mechanics and conditioning. He pitched solidly in 11 innings against other Class A players. In one stint against the Cubs’ Class A players, Bruso was so effective, sandwiching six-and 12-pitching innings around a second six-pitch frame, that afterward, the Giants sent him to the bullpen to throw an additional 25 pitches to complete his workout.

“His idea has always been, work harder than everybody else and keep your physical conditioning at a peak and good things will happen,” Paul said. “He has the best coaches in his life right now and he takes advantage of it. He listens to what they say and uses their advice in games.”

However, the highlight of Bruso’s first spring training was nearly making a one-inning appearance for the parent club. Bruso was all set to pitch the 10th inning against the Royals earlier this month, but the Giants were able to hold onto a one-run lead in the ninth.

“When they called my name down there to follow Felix Rodriguez, I got extremely nervous,” Bruso said. “Hopefully next spring training I can get an inning or so.”

Throughout his Division II All-American season at UC Davis last spring and throughout his dominant first year of short-season Class A ball, Bruso kept hitters off stride with command of his off-speed pitches. His fastball rarely tops the 90 miles an hour, but Bruso consistently hits his spots.

“I have the same speed, mostly 88-89 mph, but I’ve been working on movement in my fastball. In order to get movement, you sacrifice velocity,” said Bruso of his switch from a four-seam to a two-seam fastball.

When the Giants decide it’s time for Bruso’s 2003 season debut, he’ll walk out to the mound very much like a “veteran.”

“Hopefully I’m a little bit smarter than last year. Last year, I learned a few things I didn’t know in college,” he said. “I have the same goals and it’s the same game. I have to keep the ball down and work the corners. If I keep doing what I’ve been doing, hopefully I’ll be successful.”

After all, Pacific Bell Park is just up the freeway from San Jose.