LOUISVILLE – Jimmy Serrano finally got the opportunity he wanted to showcase what he could do against the rest of the league. A starting pitcher for Triple-A Sacramento at the time, Serrano was voted to represent the Pacific Coast League in its All-Star Game. Yet instead of packing his bags and heading for northern California, Serrano headed east to Louisville. He never showed at the All-Star Game.

Serrano was after something much bigger. He wanted a shot at the big leagues. And he felt the Cincinnati Reds' organization offered his best chance. I had the out in my contract, and I wanted to get back to the Major Leagues," Serrano said. "Sacramento was a good place to play, and I was having a good season there, so I figured my best bet to get to the Major Leagues was to try another team. And I chose the Cincinnati Reds, and Louisville is also a good place to play." Serrano was in the Oakland organization with Sacramento when he opted out of his contract and pursued other clubs. The 29-year-old right-hander said he had several organizations to consider, but when it came down to it, the Reds held the most appeal.

Not to mention he felt Cincinnati was where he had his best shot of starting. "They said just to come over here and keep doing what I'm doing, and the rest will take care of itself," said Serrano, who signed with the Reds on July 1. "And I'll just try to keep that momentum I had in Sacramento going." And that's exactly what Serrano has done over the last couple weeks. Serrano carried an 8-3 record with a 3.91 ERA in Sacramento before he opted to play for the Bats. And he's been every bit as good since arriving in Louisville.

"I think baseball's all about being in a groove," Serrano said. "Just like a hitter, when they get on a roll, they keep going. And there's also slumps. But I think at the beginning of the year, I slumped a little bit. I wasn't too comfortable with my mechanics.

"I was working with the pitching coach, Rick Rodriguez, in Sacramento, and he kind of helped me with my mechanics -- nice easy checkpoints in my mechanics. And I think it's just getting used to those." If how he's pitched in Louisville is any indication, he's used to those checkpoints. Serrano is 3-1 with a 1.94 ERA with his new club. He set the team high with eight strikeouts in his first start, then matched it in two of his next three outings.

So it should come as no surprise that Bats manager Rick Sweet had Serrano in the rotation the first day he arrived with the club and has him listed as the team's No. 1 starter. "He's smart," Sweet said of Serrano. "He has control of three pitches. He has command. He works both sides of the plate. He throws a ton of strikes, and he has a plus curveball. His best pitch is his curveball in terms of his breaking pitches." Serrano clearly has the pitches down. Now it's only a matter of time before he breaks into the big leagues -- again.

Serrano has already been there once with the Royals last season. He went 1-2 with a 4.68 ERA in 10 appearances, but the numbers don't tell the whole story. Serrano was in Wichita before his callup and had spent nearly the entire season up until that point as a reliever. Two months before arriving in Kansas City, Serrano made the switch into the starting rotation, which is no easy task for any pitcher.

"Prior to going to Kansas City, I had only been a starter for two months," Serrano said. "The rest of my career, I was a reliever. And then two months prior to getting called up, I made a move into the starting rotation. It took a while to get used to.

"It's a little different at first, just trying to get into the routine, trying to get prepared for each start. But after a while I kind of found myself following a certain pattern of things that I did before my start. Then just watching the games prior to your games and picking up on tendencies here and there." The tendencies Serrano observed were quite different at the Major League level.

To put it simply, the batters can hit nearly anything, no matter how good a pitch he threw. "You learn that the hitters and everybody up there are really as good as you imagined they are," Serrano said. "It's amazing how you can make a great pitch, and they can hit a ball a mile. So you learn to respect those guys a lot when you're up there." It's a respect Serrano wouldn't mind figuring out again. Serrano has put up the numbers to get a second shot at the big-league level, and Sweet makes no attempt to hide this.

"Serrano has the ability to pitch in the big leagues," Sweet said. "Jimmy Serrano does have good enough stuff to pitch at the Major League level, and he has shown that. Now it's just a matter of the opportunity arising." Given the ever-fluctuating state of the Reds' pitching staff, that opportunity might arise before the end of the season. And in Serrano's eyes, that opportunity would be better than any All-Star Game.

Major League Baseball – 28 July 2005

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