The Bowie Baysox's John Mariotti wipes the sweat off his brow and stares back at the hulk of a man before him. At 6'5, 235 pounds, Strieby is almost guaranteed to be the most towering figure on the field on any given night. As he stares back at Matiotti it's hard to imagine that the hurler isn't intimidated at least a little bit.
Strieby has been feasting on Eastern League pitchers like they are Scooby snacks, growing stronger and gaining confidence with each name that he adds to his hit list. On this day Strieby leads the league in homers (8), and ranks second in RBI and slugging. The night before he got a first glimpse at the raw power this man has in his bat as he sat in the bullpen and watched Strieby launch a moon shot into orbit that finally decided to descend back to earth on top of the peering scoreboard in right-centerfield 370-feet from its launching pad.
Mariotti starts his wind-up and burns the first pitch low and away. He burns the next one to the same spot. Who can blame him?
Strieby isn't chasing tonight. At times he's gone fishing for pitches out of the zone, threatening to fall into the cliché of being a power-hitter that strikes out far too often because of it, but he's aware of this and is working to become more consistent and patient at the plate.
Truth be told, Strieby is lucky to even be here right now. After pacing the Florida State League with 29 homers and 94 RBI at Class A Advanced Lakeland last season, he broke the hamate in his left hand in August and there were doubts about his ability to return for the start of the season as he was still experiencing soreness heading into the final week of spring training.
The typical recovery time for a normal person recovering from hamate surgery is six to eight weeks, but for a baseball player it can take much longer. Most players can get back onto the field relatively quick and begin hitting for contact, but for power hitters it can be a lingering issue.
If there were any doubts about Strieby's ability to regain his 2008 form, which earned him the Tigers' Organizational Player of the Year Award, they were quickly alleviated on opening night when he led off the fourth inning with a blast over the center field wall. Then, just in case anyone thought it was a fluke, he added another in the seventh.
"That gave me a lot of confidence," Strieby explained. "The main thing I was worried about was my hand being healthy. It felt good coming out on Opening Day and having a good game. It gave me something to build off of."
Fastball, knee high, this time painting the outside corner. Strieby takes it for strike one.
A lot has been said about Strieby's ability at the plate. Hitting Coach Glenn Adams just gushes about him giving him his highest praise by stating that he has hardly had to work with Strieby this season.
"He has a great swing. There's not a whole lot we're going to do to make that better. He was pretty much a finished product when he got here. He has a good enough swing to play in the big leagues right now," Adams said. "He just needs to get more consistent."
"Last year I opened up my stance about two months into the season. I've always had a little bit of an open stance but now it's more pronounced. I just thought I saw the ball better with it and it felt good," Strieby said. "When you take BP sometimes you experiment with things and I liked what I felt so I stuck with it."
This assessment isn't just limited to Adams either; the whole organization has high hopes for Strieby. A natural first baseman, manager Tom Brookens has recently started to give Strieby some innings in the outfield to prepare him for a future in the Majors.
That's not to say that he won't be at first when he gets there, but there's a pretty big road block at first in Detroit.
"With Cabrera at first it's going to be hard, so it's always good to play as many positions as you can to get your bat into the lineup," Strieby said. "Anyway I can get to the bigs, I'm all for it."
Mariotti throws a sinker and then a fastball with his next two pitches. The first one Strieby fouls away to bring the count to 2-2, the next one comes in below the knees for a ball.
"He really just needs to keep his head on the ball better and hit the bottom part of the ball," Adams said. "I didn't do a lot with him. Sometimes he starts to lift up as his swing starts, but if he stays down and stays through the pitch and gets through the ball he's fine. That's all he needs to do."
The organization feels like he's improving, though. Strieby is well aware of his strengths and limitations at the plate and has done a great job staying within himself. Toby Harrah, the club's roving hitting instructor, likes what he has seen and heard about him lately.
"Strieby has a great eye at the plate. He's got that big body, but he doesn't have a long swing. He's laying off bad pitches and hitting the ball everywhere," Harrah said.
Strieby might be his own worst critic in this regard. He agrees that has sprayed the ball to all fields, but he isn't pleased with his two-strike approach.
"Lately I haven't had that good of a two-strike approach, but as a power hitter a lot of guys try to pull the ball but I try to use the opposite field as well and take my hits that way," Streiby added.
Mariotti circles the mound. This is it. Someone is going to win and someone is going lose on this next pitch. He's shown Strieby his best stuff, but now he's going to have to reach down a little further for something extra. He steps back on the rubber, stares him down and then starts his wind-up. He reaches back and makes his offering: a sinker high in the zone. This isn't what he was looking for, but Strieby will take it. Faster than it got to the plate it's in the netting above the right field wall.
Strieby circles the bases at a leisurely pace. He slaps hands with Adams, who is filling in for Brookens as manager tonight, as he rounds third for a league leading ninth time this season. He looks around, taking it all in. Strieby is an unassuming man, but even he has to know that Erie is just a mere pit-stop on his way to something bigger.