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Soderstrom Looking for Breakthrough

February 24, 1999

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) _ Steve Soderstrom has always had the fastball and the control to pitch in the big leagues. Now, the San Francisco Giants hope their former No. 1 draft pick has the experience and intensity to finally make the jump.

In each of the past few seasons, Soderstrom has come to spring training as a candidate for a spot on the major league roster. Each time, he’s ended up back in the minors and has taken the move in stride.

But the Giants believe the Turlock native is ready to make the majors this year, either as a starter or a middle reliever.

``He’s in great shape, which is a start,″ manager Dusty Baker said. ``And you can sometimes tell by looking in a guy’s eyes.″

Pitching coach Ron Perranoski, who has worked extensively with Soderstrom in the minors, said the easy-going right-hander seems to be developing the attitude necessary for a major league pitcher.

He saw the change last season when some of Soderstrom’s pitching peers at Triple-A Fresno were called up to the majors.

``He wasn’t focused, he wasn’t in shape in the past, but each year he has matured,″ Perranoski said. ``Last year, we brought people up and not him. In the past he might have pouted, but he went forward even harder.″

Soderstrom, who graduated from Turlock High School in 1990 after posting an 11-2 mark his senior season, played three years at Fresno State before being drafted sixth overall in June 1993.

He did not sign until the end of July and was sidelined for another month by elbow inflammation, and then went 0-6 in 10 starts in the Arizona Fall League.

Soderstrom pitched at Single-A San Jose in 1994 in a season shortened by arm surgery, and moved to Double-A Shreveport the following year. He began the first of three straight Triple-A seasons in 1996, a year in which he went 2-0 in a September call-up by the Giants.

His best season was 1998, in which he went 11-4 for Fresno.

``I became a better pitcher in the last few years. Now I have an idea of how to get someone out. I’m out there with a purpose,″ he said. ``My first two years, I just threw fastballs. It took me a while to understand how to pitch.″

The Giants, who have not yet settled on their fourth and fifth starters, still have not decided whether to keep Soderstrom as a starter or move him to the bullpen.

``Last season, he resurrected himself. Now it’s a matter of getting ready to compete for a starting spot here,″ general manager Brian Sabean said. ``This might be when we have to decide whether he’s a starter or reliever.″

Soderstrom has struck out 387 batters and walked 227 in 572 innings in the minors. Now he has developed a split-finger fastball that could increase his effectiveness as a starter or reliever, and he just hopes his spot can be defined soon.

``Once we determine his role, it’s going to be a lot easier for him,″ Perranoski said. ``He’s got four good pitches. It’s a matter of him being able to execute those pitches in a ballgame.″

Soderstrom knows this spring may be his best chance to make the Giants, and that he can’t spend too much longer in the minors.

``I think it’s time. I’m going to be 27 and I think it’s time I make the jump now. You don’t see too many 29-year-old rookies,″ he said. ``I need to stay focused, try to put pressure on myself.″

But Soderstrom’s apparently never going to lose his laid-back approach. When asked what he’d do if he failed to make the Giants and was sent back to Triple-A yet again, he shrugged his shoulders.

``I’d like to be in the big leagues,″ he said. ``But I’m not the type of guy that gets frustrated about things. I’d just head back to Fresno and wait things out.″

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