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June 16. 2012 11:28PM

Kevin Gray's On Baseball: Salem's Doyle is in Japan after getting surprise offer


Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Terry Doyle pitches in the first inning of a March 4 game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park. (Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE)
In a matter of days, Terry Doyle nearly pitched a no-hitter and signed a big-money contract to play in Japan.

It's been a wild season for the Salem High graduate, who pitched for the Twins and White Sox at spring training and has spent the past three months proving himself — again — in the minors.

The 26-year-old Doyle won five straight outings for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights, leading to a surprise phone call from his agent last week. The defending champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, who play in the country's top league, were willing to pay Doyle more than 10 times what he's been earning in the minors.

He made the logical choice.

Doyle, a Boston College graduate, signed a three-year deal that includes guaranteed money for the rest of the 2012 season. He said Fukuoka will pay more than the major-league minimum salary ($480,000) for up to three years. The club owns a team option for 2013. Both parties agreed to a flexible clause for 2014 that would enable Doyle to return home and pursue a dream of pitching in the majors.

“It was a big surprise to have this opportunity. When I thought about it, financially, it was a huge improvement on what I'm making in the minors. I took a long look at the White Sox depth chart they have in the minors, and I was probably the third or fourth option to get called up (to the majors),” he said. “Instead of sitting around here in Triple-A, I ended up going home and packing my bags and having a going away party with my friends and family.”

Doyle won his final five starts for the Charlotte Knights and went 6-3 overall with a 2.83 ERA in the International League. When the White Sox granted Doyle's release on Wednesday, the big righty still had little idea where he was going or what to expect in Japan.

“I figure I've got 16 hours on the plane to learn about where I'm going,” said Doyle, who left Thursday. “One of my teammates was telling me that baseball is so big over there. He said it's the movie “Mr. Baseball” is pretty accurate.”

Doyle will join a SoftBank Hawks team that includes former Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima and outfielder Wily Mo Pena. Fukuoka, of the Pacific League, won the Japan Series last year.

A 2008 draft pick of the White Sox, Doyle spent four seasons in the minors, posting a 31-24 record and 2.97 ERA. Last winter, he was acquired by Minnesota in the Rule 5 Draft. He pitched for the Twins during spring training and was later returned to the White Sox in March.

Asked about the sudden career change, Doyle said, “Same field. I'm just getting transferred to another continent.”

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TAKING FLIGHT: Former Southern New Hampshire University standout Tim Flight, drafted in the 17th round by the Yankees this month, will begin his pro career with Class A short-season Staten Island. The baby Bombers open the New York-Penn League at Brooklyn on Monday.

“It wasn't a complicated signing process,” Yankees scout Matt Hyde said. “Tim wanted to go out and play. That's what you're hoping for. He's anxious to begin the journey to the major leagues.”

Flight wasn't the only Penman inking a contract last week. SNHU lefty Zach LeBarron signed a free-agent deal with the Los Angeles Angels and reported to the rookie-league Angels in Arizona. LeBarron was among the unsung heroes for the NCAA East Regional champs, going 5-0 with a 2.35 ERA.

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FISHER TRACKS: Blue Jays righty Henderson Alvarez, who pitched for the Fisher Cats last season, gave up a massive home run to Bryce Harper and lost his fourth straight decision. Harper, who also played in the Eastern League last year, cracked a homer estimated at 434 feet at Rogers Centre. ... Second-year Royals reliever Tim Collins improved to 3-0 (2.10 ERA) by picking up a win in extra innings against the Brewers. The 22-year-old is approaching his 100th career appearance in the majors. Collins played for New Hampshire in 2009-10 and was traded to the Royals.

Anyone remember Matt Cain pitching against the Fisher Cats? The Giants phenom came through the Eastern League in 2004 and pitched against the Fisher Cats twice as a 19-year-old.

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FARM REPORT: Yankees farmhands Jordan Cote from Winnisquam Regional of Tilton and Joey Maher of Bedford High are scheduled to begin the season with New York's Gulf Coast League affiliate in Tampa. The GCL team begins play at the Yankees' minor-league complex this week.

Kennett High of Conway product Jeff Locke notched his fifth win for Triple-A Indianapolis (Pirates) and has been electric while pitching at home, going 4-1 with a 2.56 ERA ... Nashua South's Kevin Nolan entered the weekend leading the first-place Dunedin Blue Jays with a .324 average and ranking second in the Florida State League with 82 hits.

Cubs farmhand Brad Zapenas of Nashua, an infielder with the Peoria Chiefs, was enjoying a productive May when he injured his right shoulder while diving for a liner at third base. The Nashua North graduate played through pain for three games before the medical staff realized there was somethng seriously wrong with his shoulder. Torn labrum. Zapenas had surgery in Chicago last week and will spend much of the summer in Arizona for rehab work. Zapenas batted .273 in his first pro season.

Staff writer Kevin Gray covers pro baseball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His email address is kgray@unionleader.com.

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