For starters, 51s’ Meloan finding his groove

Nolan Ryan. Roger Clemens. Josh Beckett. Jonathan Meloan.

The last name might never deserve equal billing among the other big, strong starting pitchers from Texas, but the 51s’ 6-foot-3-inch, 230-pound right-hander from Houston has shown plenty of promise during a rapid rise through the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.

“Those are big aspirations,” said Meloan, 23, who threw six strong innings on Thursday in Las Vegas’ 6-2 triumph over Colorado Springs at Cashman Field. “They’re big, powerful right-handers, and everybody looks up to those guys. They’re intimidators. One day, if I’m ever put in the same sentence with those guys, I’ll be happy.”

Meloan (1-0) held the Sky Sox to one run on three hits in six innings — which equaled the longest outing by a Las Vegas starter this season — walked three and struck out six as the 51s improved to 3-5. He lowered his ERA to 2.70.

He retired the last eight batters he faced, five via strikeout, and also doubled and scored.

“I’m very, very happy with the results from Jon tonight, at a time when we really needed six innings from our starter to give our bullpen a break,” 51s manager Lorenzo Bundy said. “He did a great job. He stayed aggressive in the strike zone, threw his breaking ball for strikes and even helped his cause with a leadoff double.”

Rated the Dodgers’ eighth-best prospect by Baseball America, Meloan is making the transition from reliever to starter this season.

“Starting fits my personality good. I like it, the preparation in between and stuff,” the freckle-faced, red-haired right-hander said. “I think I’ve proven myself in the bullpen, and I hope to prove myself as a starter and be more valuable to the team.”

Meloan made only nine starts in 86 minor league games entering this season and still is adjusting to starting. He pitched from the stretch for most of Thursday’s game.

“Right now, I’m getting my feet wet starting, so I’m going to stay in the stretch for a while,” he said. “Early on, I really struggled with my rhythm, tempo and delivery. I was kind of erratic. The last couple of innings, I finally found it and picked it up a little bit. That was big for me.”

Meloan has excelled at every stage of his career, from hurling three no-hitters in high school to going 24-4 in three seasons (2003 to 2005) at the University of Arizona, to reaching the majors in his third professional season.

A fifth-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2005, Meloan started last season at Double-A Jacksonville and was promoted to Las Vegas in July. He made his big league debut with the Dodgers on Sept. 1, tossing two scoreless innings at San Diego.

Meloan struggled thereafter, though, giving up nine runs on eight hits in 7 1/3 innings, walking eight and striking out seven.

“Since you’re a little boy, you think of one day playing in the big leagues, so when it actually became a reality, I was kind of star struck at first,” he said. “I didn’t really perform in the big leagues how I wanted to, but now that I got a taste of it, hopefully I’ll get a chance to go back and be there to stay.”

NOTES — Infielder Rex Rundgren was optioned to Ogden, and the 51s activated infielder Angel Chavez. … 51s third baseman Terry Tiffee went 3-for-3 to raise his Pacific Coast League-leading batting average to .613.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@ or 702-383-0354.


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