Thole looking forward to facing Nationals phenom Strasburg

Washington's Stephen Strasburg pitches against the Cleveland Indians Washington's Stephen Strasburg pitches against the Cleveland Indians in his second major league start. (June 13, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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WASHINGTON - Josh Thole was disappointed when he missed his first shot at facing Stephen Strasburg last month at Coca-Cola Stadium in Buffalo. After hearing all of the hype, Thole wanted to see firsthand the Nationals' phenom with the 100-mph fastball. But he was struck by a bat the day before Strasburg's visit, which was shown by the Mets' own network, SNY.

On Saturday, Thole will get his chance, and this time it will be in a nationally televised game at Nationals Park.

"I was getting pumped up to face him," said Thole, who will be behind the plate Saturday for knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

Despite all the talk of Strasburg's triple-digit fastball, Thole said his Buffalo teammates raved about his ability to throw any pitch at any time from a repertoire that includes a 12-to-6 curveball, a high-80s changeup and a wicked slider.

"At the end of the day, you've still got to throw the ball over the plate," Jeff Francoeur said. "We've got to force him to work. We all know that he's on a pitch count and I don't think that [manager] Jim Riggleman is allowed to keep him in past 90 to 95 pitches."

Actually, Strasburg, who turns 22 later this month, has a 100-pitch ceiling. The Mets just have to get him there by the sixth inning. Strasburg (2-2, 2.27 ERA), who has lost his last two starts against the Royals and Braves, has not thrown more than 95 pitches or lasted more than seven innings in any of his five starts.

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Ike Davis faced Strasburg in the Arizona Fall League last October and went 0-for-2, lining out (his description) and striking out. Now he's looking forward to payback - respectfully, of course.

"He's a No. 1 pick and the guy's got amazing stuff," Davis said. "I'm going to go in there, try to see it and try to hit it."

Strasburg has almost single-handedly accounted for the attendance bump at Nationals Park this season. The Nats average 23,202 fans - up 1,909 from last season - but get close to the 41,888 capacity when Strasburg pitches.

"I'm looking forward to it because now everyone can see me pitch," Dickey said.

When asked about the badge of honor of saying that he faced Strasburg, Dickey laughed. "Let's wait on that badge,'' he said. "Let's see how it goes first."

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