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The best is yet to come

After two bad outings to start the season, Hudson pitcher Rob Petrucci isn't concerned.

By JOHN COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


Ask him how he pitched the next time out against Pasco, and he says, "We won."

In both games, the Hudson junior did not have his best stuff and was slapped around by the Leopards and Pirates. And that's the point -- individual stats matter little in the bigger picture.

But don't go getting the wrong impression. Petrucci, 4-5 last year, cares about how he does. He has to. Because this season he will be counted on to be the Cobras' ace, pitching in the biggest games against the team's toughest challengers.

Chances are, if he continues to pitch like he has, Hudson's season will not be as good as it had hoped. Petrucci, however, doesn't expect his early-season woes to last.

"It's early in the season; just the beginning," he said. "No one really has all their best stuff. But I'll catch on. You pick it up as you go and by the end, that's when you really start to make things happen. I don't think I'm in top form yet."

Coach Jack Ledbetter agrees.

"His outings so far have been uncharacteristic," he said.

When turning in a characteristic performance, Petrucci is considered one of the county's best pitchers. Nearly every coach, when asked to name the best pitchers, includes him in the group.

None are as complimentary, though, as his own coach. A former minor-league pitcher, Ledbetter liked what he saw from Petrucci last year, and his expectations are not limited to his work on the mound.

"I like his intelligence," Ledbetter said.

"He's just so coachable. He picks things up very quickly and I think that's what separates the good players from the mediocre ones.

"I also think he's probably one of the best centerfielders in the area. He has a strong arm and he runs well. If I were to describe him as a prospect, I would go with both positions equally."

Hudson will benefit most from his pitching prowess. The right-hander throws in the mid-80s, and can throw four pitches.

In fact, it was his ability to throw those pitches at any time last year that truly impressed Ledbetter. If one moment from Petrucci's sophomore season stood out, it was a game against Zephyrhills, a final four team.

"He had just learned a changeup and a slider, and picked them right up," Ledbetter said. "He was throwing any pitch at any time with command that night. I thought he really grew as a pitcher last year."

Though he describes himself as a ground-ball pitcher who just tries to get outs, he averaged a strikeout per inning last season. A return to that form is likely not too far off.

Until then, Petrucci plans on concerning himself with the team winning games, even if a bad outing like Tuesday night, in which Pasco led 8-1, means the Cobras have to rally as they did for a 9-8 win in 11 innings.

"Winning made (my pitching) a little easier to swallow," he said. "But I still have to think back on what I did wrong and fix it. I will. And I'm hoping to do better than last year, trying to get more wins and less losses.

"How many more or less doesn't matter as long as the team is winning."

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