Strickland perfecting secondary pitches

Physically-imposing right-hander trying to keep hitters off balance

Strickland perfecting secondary pitches

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, with a fastball that averages nearly 97 mph, Hunter Strickland fits the image of the big, hard-throwing right-hander. This won't change immediately, as he emphasized Tuesday while pitching a scoreless seventh inning for the Giants in their 8-7 loss to the White Sox.

Strickland's physical dimensions are bound to remain intact for a while, and his arm should remain sound enough for him to maintain his velocity through the foreseeable future.

He might try to tweak that stereotype, however.

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With his ability, Strickland can't help but thrive. Check out his 2.16 ERA in 64 career appearances and 59 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings. It's worth remembering that Giants legend Juan Marichal gushed over Strickland during an AT&T Park visit last summer.

"If he learns how to spot that fastball, he's going to be untouchable," the Hall of Famer said. "That kid has everything you need to be a great pitcher."

Strickland, 27, realizes that complementing his fastball is just as essential as commanding it. He relied on it considerably last year, throwing it 71.3 percent of the time at an average speed of 96.9 mph, according to Fangraphs.com. So he has devoted part of his spring to refining his split-fingered fastball, which he uses as a changeup, and his slider, which has plenty of life at 85 mph.

"What I like about him right now is that he's working on his offspeed and secondary pitches," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Strickland, who has 10 strikeouts in nine innings this spring.

Strickland understands the importance of varying his deliveries.

"It's something we definitely have to have," he said. "It's pretty apparent we can't go up there and throw a fastball every pitch. There's always room for improvement. I'm just kind of trying to fine-tune everything and mix (other pitches) in a little bit more."

Already gifted with admirable depth, the Giants' bullpen would become significantly stronger if Strickland approaches full development. San Francisco could use him in virtually any role -- to retire a tough right-handed batter, to pitch a full inning in a setup role or even close when Santiago Casilla needs a break.

"I feel like I'm ready for anything," said Strickland, who recorded a save in the 2014 National League Division Series against Washington. "Whenever Boch calls my name, that's my job."

Strickland has experienced a lot in the last couple of years: completing his recovery from Tommy John surgery, breaking into the Majors with nine scoreless September appearances in 2014, allowing six home runs in that year's postseason and beginning 2015 in Triple-A before returning to the Majors in May and staying there.

Yet when asked whether he feels like a veteran, Strickland resisted applying that label to himself.

"Obviously, I've played the game a long time. But at this level, I'm still a rookie," he said. "I like to look at it that way because I don't want to take anything for granted. I want to learn from the veteran guys and continue to build and grow."

Don't think for a second that Strickland is the least bit meek, though.

"I definitely feel like I belong here," he said.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.