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Cleveland gearing up for Strasburg's road debut

June 12, 2010

CLEVELAND (AP) -- A city that knows something about watching a budding superstar is eager for the arrival of Stephen Strasburg.

Few athletes have captured a town the way the Cavaliers' LeBron James has enthralled Cleveland. On Sunday, many of his fans will line up to see Strasburg, the Washington Nationals' hard throwing phenom.

Fans fretting over whether or not James will leave the Cleveland Cavaliers as a free agent this summer will get a brief diversion when Strasburg takes the mound against the suddenly potent Indians, winners of four of five entering Saturday night's game.

"I watched him on TV on Tuesday night and he was incredible," said Lou Perrizone, who drove about 85 miles from his Rossford home in northwestern Ohio on Saturday to buy tickets a day early. "But I'm an Indians fan. I want to see them beat him. Years from now, this ticket stub could be special -- the first loss by a Hall of Famer."

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All the hype, and Strasburg has made only one fabulous start.

The first pick in the 2009 draft struck out 14 over seven innings to win his major league debut over the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-2.

Indians first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr., caught All-Stars such as CC Sabathia and Bartolo Colon. He was impressed by what he saw on TV, but cautioned: "His stuff is the real deal, but let's not make this Elvis coming back from the dead."

Alomar said it would be great for baseball if Strasburg indeed did, "pitch 20 years and win 300 games," but said he he's seen plenty pitchers succeed early, run into difficulty, and be forgotten.

Washington manager Jim Riggleman understands why so much attention is being heaped upon Strasburg.

"You certainly can't fault our fans and others for wanting great success," Riggleman said. "They're excited about it. I'm glad this is going on and expectations are high."

Riggleman believes a crowd expected to be Cleveland's largest since an opening-day sellout will benefit both teams.

"Players feed off those big crowds," he said. "Quite often, you get a better brand of baseball when you get more people at the games. It shouldn't be that way, but it is."

Indians manager Manny Acta hopes his young team doesn't get too excited.

"He's good, he's special, but we have to stay in the moment," Acta said. "We have to put up quality at-bats, make sure he throws the ball over the plate, and try to run up the pitch count."

Riggleman knows that, too, and will closely monitor the 21-year-old.

"We'll try to keep him under 100 pitches," he said.

Indians batters consider it a challenge to face the 6-4, 225-pound Strasburg.

"You want to see what he's got and take a few hacks against him," Cleveland designated hitter Travis Hafner said.

Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo said that from TV highlights, Strasburg reminds him of Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander.

"Both have a big fastball and a big curve," Choo said. "You have to really focus."

Choo said even if Strasburg's fastball registers triple digits on the radar gun, the measure of a good pitcher is where he locates his pitches and if he can change speeds effectively.

"You look at (Joel) Zumaya," Choo said of the Tigers' reliever whose fastball reaches 100 mph. "That's a great fastball, but you pretty much just have to look for that. With Verlander and this guy, you swing for the fastball and he throws that curve, you can look a little funny.

"I don't want to look funny. I want to win," Choo said.

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