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Bevos start swinging toward a pennant race

In June, team registers best month of hitting in three years: .305

Baseball players learn more from failure than success, the thinking goes. So, it makes sense for the Portland Beavers to listen and learn from the career of Rob Deer.

'He's the epitome of a guy whose reputation does not precede himself,' first baseman Tagg Bozied says. 'He'll say, 'Don't do like I did.' '

Deer, the Beavers' hitting instructor, struck out an average of 162 times in his eight full major league seasons. He played 11 years in the big leagues and never hit above .252. Yet, players like Bozied gush over the job that Deer has done with the San Diego Padres' farmhands.

'He can teach,' Bozied says. 'He knows how to hit.'

'Rooster's done a heck of a job,' says Manager Rick Sweet, using Deer's nickname. 'We're swinging the bats better, by far more consistently than ever in the three years we've been here.'

The Beavers are no longer last or near the bottom in the Pacific Coast League in hitting, as was the case the last two years. Portland hit .305 in June, by far the best of any month in the last three seasons (.273 in June 2001 was the previous best). They enter the Triple-A All-Star break batting .266 as a team. And Jason Bay, maybe the team's most developed hitter, sat out last month because of a wrist injury.

The strong hitting has Portland in the PCL North Division pennant race. The Beavers are 49-49, one game behind Edmonton; their season resumes Thursday at home against Salt Lake City.

In a reversal of fortunes, the pitching has lagged this year, or else the Beavers would be way over.500. The Bevos have a team ERA of 4.49.

All-star second baseman Bernie Castro, a slap hitter with 36 steals, led the June attack, hitting .390 in 24 games. Right fielder Alex Fernandez hit. 367, shortstop Khalil Greene .357, Bozied .349 with five homers and 22 RBIs, Rich Gomez .346 and Alex Pelaez .333 with five homers.

Fernandez has been the biggest surprise. The 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic has hit nearly.400 with runners in scoring position and ranks second on the team in hitting (.321, behind Gomez's .355).

'He's got pop in his bat,' Sweet says. 'He's a solid, above-average runner. Has a strong arm. Has lots of tools, but he's never really put it together until this year.

'He's still a wild swinger. He chases too many balls out of the zone.'

Fernandez says he tends to swing too hard. 'I'm trying to cut my swing down to 80 percent instead of 100 percent,' he says.

Greene, San Diego's first-round pick last year, has slowed after his torrid start with Portland. He has been too aggressive at times, walking only three times since his call-up to Portland in late May, 'and he's struck out a little bit too much,' Sweet says.

'But he's a young kid,' Sweet adds. 'He's at a level that nobody thought he'd get to this year. He's the real thing, a quality player. He's had big base hits, huge base hits for us.'

Bay has hit four homers since his fractured right wrist healed. When Pelaez returns from a sprained foot, perhaps next month, the Beavers will be at full strength for the pennant push Ñ if San Diego doesn't raid the roster in the meantime.

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