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Strickland learns in postseason he has work to do

After strong September, Giants righty hurt by home runs in October

KANSAS CITY -- For Giants right-hander Hunter Strickland, 2014 has been a tale of two Major League seasons. One part of his season has been a dream. The other part has been more a nightmare.

Strickland's road to the big leagues has been a test of his ability to overcome inconsistency as well as injury issues. He has been on an endurance test that he was finally winning. And now, healthy once again, Strickland faces the reality of the damage that can be inflicted by the best hitters in the world.

Strickland is an imposing presence on the mound at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. A power pitcher, Strickland is built to punish hitters with a four-seam fastball that generally sits at 96-97 mph. He also throws a slider in the 84-87 mph range and an occasional curveball. The fastball is Strickland's primary pitch.

Strickland, who turned 26 in September, was an 18th-round selection by the Red Sox in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. Boston chose him out of Pike County High School in Georgia.

Strickland started his career with the Red Sox's Rookie team in the Gulf Coast League. He posted a 6.04 ERA while appearing in nine games, six starts. Strickland moved to Class A Lowell the following season and again worked both in the rotation and as a reliever. He threw 70 2/3 innings during that second season, finishing with a 3.18 ERA.

Strickland's future changed in his third season. He was pitching rather well in the Minors when the Red Sox sent him to the Pirates with infielder Argenis Diaz for Adam LaRoche.

There have been some injury issues in Strickland's Minor League career. He had an elbow strain that cost him time in 2010 and rotator cuff surgery the following year. Strickland's injuries cost him a year and a half of development.

After working his way back to full strength, Strickland was inconsistent while pitching in the Pirates' Minor League system. Released from their roster, the Giants claimed him off waivers in April 2013.

The outlook became much brighter for Strickland when he was sent to Class A Advanced San Jose for his 24-year-old season. He saved nine games, pitching 21 innings while yielding only 10 hits.

Strickland was rolling along when he was forced to have Tommy John surgery in May 2013. This past May, he returned to the bullpen at San Jose. Strickland pitched well enough to earn a promotion to Double-A Richmond at the end of the month.

Then, after parts of seven Minor League seasons, two major surgeries and pitching as both a starter and reliever, Strickland finally made his Major League debut on Sept. 1. He pitched one inning of two-hit relief against the Rockies.

Strickland appeared in nine games out of the bullpen for San Francisco in September. He yielded five hits in seven scoreless innings. Strickland struck out nine and didn't walk a batter. He didn't yield a home run -- that's crucial. Strickland was stellar on the mound, earning the trust of the Giants' brass and gaining a bullpen spot on the postseason roster. Life was sweet.

Then everything turned a bit bitter. For the first time in his brief stint as a Major League pitcher, Strickland faced adversity. He pitched against the Nationals in the National League Division Series and gave up three home runs in three innings. Strickland had a 9.00 ERA in his three appearances.

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Then the St. Louis Cardinals came calling in the NL Championship Series. Strickland pitched 1 1/3 innings and yielded one hit: A Matt Adams home run.

Strickland has pitched in four World Series games against the Royals. He has yielded four hits. Two of them have been home runs, making a total of six homers off Strickland, a record for a relief pitcher to give up in one postseason.

I still believe Strickland has enough talent to navigate a Major League lineup. His confidence shaken, he will have to regroup and work at commanding his fastball and secondary pitches down in the zone and away from the barrel of big league bats. It's a tall order.

Strickland's arm strength and mechanics are sound. He just has to believe in his stuff and in his ability to throw strikes. Strickland will have to add some deception and movement to his pitches so they don't flatten out or get too much of the plate, as the pitch to Mike Moustakas did in Game 6 of the World Series. It was a mistake pitch that dropped right into Moustakas' wheelhouse.

Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.
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