Sox mission: solve Strasburg

Washington pitching phenom draws Chicago for third start
2010-06-18T00:05:00Z 2010-06-18T01:10:05Z Sox mission: solve StrasburgBY GEORGE CASTLE - Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
June 18, 2010 12:05 am  • 

CHICAGO | They've seen him on video from afar, throwing a 100 mph fastball, a 12-6 curve and assorted other crackling pitches, totaling 22 strikeouts in his first 12 1/3 big-league innings.

Now the White Sox have to try to hit Stephen Strasburg.

They couldn't think about it too much in advance. They've just got to go out and do it at 6:05 p.m. today at Nationals Stadium in the nation's capital.

But outfielder Juan Pierre probably said out loud what many of his teammates are thinking. The Sox have been notorious for bowing to seemingly average young pitchers they've never faced. Wunderkind Strasburg is not average by any means.

"Everybody watched the first inning of his first game," Pierre said of Strasburg's debut against the Pirates on June 8. "He's a good pitcher. He has a live arm. I usually worry about the pitcher the day of. We'll have our work cut out for us for someone we've never seen before."

Other Sox opinions are to the point.

"Very impressed," manager Ozzie Guillen said.

"The whole package, great arm, great control," said first baseman Paul Konerko.

Strasburg may have more stuff than they think. Jim Riggleman would know. He's his manager on the Nationals, and he also broke in another sensational kid with century-speed on his fastball when he was Cubs manager back in 1998.

Yet Riggleman believes Strasburg might have Kerry Wood beat on the sheer variety of pitches he can throw at a hitter.

"Stephen throws a two-seam (sinking) fastball in the 92-93 (mph) range," Riggleman said. "That's not a pitch Kerry threw back in those days. He also throws a change. Kerry was more fastball-curve-slider.

"It's a little different repertoire. He has the ability to have lower-pitch innings than Wood. The other day in Cleveland (throwing the two-seamer), Stephen had three ground-ball outs in one inning."

When Strasburg struck out 14 in seven innings in his first game, he threw just 94 pitches. Wood walked more hitters and typically went more than 110 or 120 pitches in outings of similar length.

The Sox should be able to adequately scout Strasburg on video.

"You have close to 200 pitches to hone in on," Riggleman said of his 21-year-old ace's two starts.

Yet acting upon that information is something else.

"More so the challenge of the first time (facing Strasburg) is how good his stuff is that day," he said.

Wood did not have the blanket internet coverage and extra broadcast channels covering his break-in season compared to Strasburg. The MLB Network, which did not sign on until 2009, will televise Strasburg's game against the Sox, as will Comcast SportsNet. Strasburg has generated a media frenzy since the Nats drafted him No. 1 in the country last year out of San Diego State, where he was a two-time All-American and strikeout machine, and the hype is only building.

"He's handled it as well as he could handle it," Riggleman said. "He's been perfect that way, answering questions. Stephen's a very humble young man. He deflects attention away from himself. This has been building for a long time, and he's handled it all along."

That quality drew praise from Sox ace Jake Peavy, who knows a bit about hoopla coming over to the Sox as a perceived savior-ace.

"Obviously, this kid done a nice job of keeping things under control with all the hype around him, and rightfully so," Peavy said. "This guy's special. The stuff's going to take you many great places.

"This kid's going to be fine, I promise you."

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

More inside on Page B4

White Sox sweep Pirates to move to 8-2 in last 10

Cubs edge Athletics in matinee at Wrigley

George Castle looks at the North Side hitting woes

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