Next: The Bevos, having finished with hot Tucson, play Fresno in four home games starting today. A five-game series at Tacoma starts Wednesday.

Struggling: Portland dipped below .500 this week for the first time since May 2. It's pretty obvious that losing pitchers Mike Thompson and Brian Sikorski to parent San Diego and pitcher Seth Etherton to trade hurt the Triple-A club.

'We're weakened, of course, but the main purpose is to help us win games up there (in San Diego),' outfielder Terrmel Sledge says. 'It's not like they want us to lose down here. It's a trickle-down effect.

'Every organization goes through the same deal. It's part of being in the minor leagues; you've got to battle through it and deal with what we have.'

Starters are now Tim Stauffer, Eric Junge, Dewon Brazelton and Jack Cassel, with a fifth starter to be determined. The closer role is by committee.

The offense hasn't been pounding home runs lately, and only Bobby Hill and Paul McAnulty are hitting close to .300. McAnulty went 5-for-5 with a two-run homer Wednesday as the Beavers rallied from an eight-run deficit to beat Tucson 11-10 at PGE Park.

'When we all click, it'll be scary,' Sledge says.

No comment: Outfielder Jack Cust doesn't want to talk about his walk total, which stood at 59 entering Wednesday, second in pro baseball to Philadelphia's Bobby Abreu (66). Last time Cust said something, he had a two-week slump.

'If I was where Bobby Abreu was, maybe I'd be happy,' he says.

Stauffer improved: Stauffer has had five strong outings in a row, thanks to some bullpen work with pitching coach Gary Lance. 'He had lack of (arm) extension, lack of leverage,' Lance says. 'Within that framework, we're working on his repeating his release point, and the mundaneness of pitching.'

Huh? Lance tries to calm down pitchers, and make it 'boring' for them. Case in point: Junge.

'I try to get guys to be bored, and be calm and determined,' Lance says, adding that Junge's 'breathing fire and brimstone, in a super adrenaline state on the mound, cannot be sustained.'

World Series time: Sledge (Long Beach State), outfielder Jon Knott (Mississippi State), pitcher Mario Ramos (Rice) and second baseman Bobby Hill (Miami) have played in the College World Series. Hill's alma mater plays Oregon State on Saturday, and he predicts victory for the Hurricanes, of course.

'I'm very proud of the team they have this year,' he says. 'They weren't ranked, and they could have given in, but they battled and now they're in the College World Series with a chance to win it.' Hill played on three CWS teams, including the 1999 champion Hurricanes.

- Jason Vondersmith

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