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Anderson set to take mound in Suns' opener

April 03, 2013|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com

For one day, Dixon Anderson has a chance to feel like Stephen Strasburg.

“That would be awesome,” the right-handed pitcher said.

Like Strasburg, Anderson will be the opening-day starter for a Washington Nationals team, albeit the Hagerstown Suns, the Single-A affiliate in the South Atlantic League.

So, it’s not at Nationals Park against the Miami Marlins. It’s in Purdue Stadium Thursday at 7:05 p.m. against the Delmarva Shorebirds in Salisbury, Md. And no one will be expecting a cool seven shutout innings on 80 pitches.

All that’s required is a decent start.

“It could be,” Anderson said. “I’d be up for it, but it’s an incredible opportunity.”

Today is the day that many of the new Hagerstown Suns have been waiting for. It’s the first day on a full-season team, where they will get a true gauge of what it takes to be a professional baseball player. Anderson will be at center stage for a team that has very little SAL experience and very few teammates who spent extended time at Municipal Stadium last season.

But as polished as the 2012 team was in winning the Northern Division’s second-half title, the 2013 team has a level of determination to make up for the lack of seasoning.

“This group might not have the same production as the team last year,” said Suns first-year manager Tripp Keister. “But they are gamers. They get after it. They come to play every day and they want to win everything.”

Anderson will have the first chance to do it.

The adrenaline will be pumping and the nerves might be twitching, but he isn’t expecting anything Strasburg-like, as in a 2-0 victory.

“It’s typical when you are working through the minors,” said the 6-foot-5, 225-pound right-hander, who was a ninth-round pick in the 2011 draft. “You don’t see a lot of guys you have faced. I was here last year for three starts and probably won’t see any of those guys again.

“You just go out and do your work and pitch to your strengths.”

The work will entail staying in control and pitching to get contact early in the count. It’s the Nationals’ formula to allow starters to stay in the game longer and keep the defense ready to play.

“I like to throw strikes and work the zone,” he said. “I want to get good, early contact to help shorten the game and stay in longer.”

Keister is handing Anderson the ball because he seems to be the right man for the opening game. He was 1-2 with a 3.04 earned run average last season in nine games in the Gulf Coast League and with the Suns. He was 1-1 in Hagerstown with a 2.79 ERA with six walks and seven strikeouts.

“He was hurt last year and it was a frustrating year,” Keister said. “He got healthy and got here at the end of the season and that was fantastic. He has good command of his fastball and the command of his breaking ball is a work in progress.”

Anderson gets the start in front of what could be a formidable Suns defense. Tony Renda will play second and Stephen Perez will be at shortstop — Washington’s second- and ninth-round picks in the 2012 draft — while J.R. Higley, one of the few players with experience with the Suns, will be in center field.

“We are excited about our defense up the middle,” Keister said.

Hagerstown’s outfield will be the source of most of its power as Wander Ramos, Brandon Miller and Estarlin Martinez will share time in the field and at the designated hitter.

Mike McQuillian will start at third, Carlos Lopez at first and Pedro Severino will be behind the plate for the first game against Delmarva.

“McQuillian has hit everywhere he’s been,” Keister said. “Lopez is starting to show some power.”

The Suns play their first seven games on the road — four in Delmarva and three in Lakewood, N.J. — before opening the home schedule on April 11 against Delmarva at Municipal Stadium.

“These guys and the staff are ready to get started,” Keister said. “Almost all of them were in Auburn last year, so they have a lot of continuity. It’s going to be exciting to watch these guys develop.”

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