Strickland: 'I'm ready'

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Scott Strickland flashed just the slightest sliver of a grin as he came off the mound Wednesday, having completed his workload in a minor league game against the Mets' Triple-A hitters. <P> With another two innings of exhibition baseball under his belt, Strickland is coming closer to pitching against real hitters in real game situations.

Nearly two years after having Tommy John surgery on his pitching arm, the right-hander is so close to the big leagues, he can taste it.

"I feel outstanding," Strickland said. "I'm 100 percent."

Wednesday marked Strickland's fifth two-inning stint of the spring, and as the six outs get more and more efficient, the right-hander's body is telling him exactly what he wants to hear.

So, too, are the results. During his outing Wednesday, Strickland snapped off a set of cut fastballs that broke almost horizontally at two inch measurements, slicing down and in on left-handed hitters. He said he's never seen the cutter do quite that before, but it'd be just fine if that kind of movement sticks around.

"I'm better now," Strickland said. "There's no question. I've got a change-up and the cutter to help take care of the left-handed hitters, which I had some trouble with (lefties hit .293 against Strickland from 2002-03, compared to .194 by righties).

"With those two weapons, I feel better now than I ever was before."

Up next for Strickland is the challenge of pitching on back-to-back days, an effort that should be scheduled by pitching coach Rick Peterson sometime this week. Strickland believes that he will ace that exam as well.

"There's no doubt in my mind," Strickland said. "I'm ready. It's none of this, 'Oh, is he ready yet?' Hell yes, I'm ready."

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