BOISE — Chris Huseby is back in Boise working on throwing strikes.
Looks like he’ll be hitting a few, too.
The Boise Hawks pitcher blasted the first professional pitch he saw for a stand-up double Tuesday night to help the Boise Hawks defeat the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes 6-2 in front of 1,977 fans at Memorial Stadium.
Huseby finished 1-for-4 with the double and scored two runs.
“Surprisingly, not hitting for four years, I still have a quality swing like I do and drive the ball with some authority, (which) has always been my strong point,” he said.
While Huseby has shown the Chicago Cubs he can hit, pitching remains his priority.
The Cubs have invested a lot of time and money since drafting the 6-foot-7 right-hander out of Martin County (Fla.) High in 2006. Huseby received $1.3 million upon signing, a record for an 11th-round draft pick.
By comparison, the Cubs’ 2010 first-round draft pick, pitcher Hayden Simpson, recently signed for a reported $1.06 million.
Huseby said the large signing bonus initially added pressure, but now other things have impacted his performance on the mound.
Huseby said he’s been thinking instead of reacting and aiming instead of throwing.
Taking daily batting practice has helped clear his mind on the mound, said Hawks pitching coach Jeff Fassero.
“It was something to get his mind off of pitching, just so he doesn’t sit and think about the troubles he’s been having on the mound,” Fassero said. “There’s a lot of potential there, but it’s amazing what the mind will do to you.”
Last season, Huseby struck out 73 batters, walked 10 and finished with 18 saves and a 1.83 ERA for the Cubs’ Low-A team in Peoria, Ill. He struggled at High-A Daytona (Fla.) this spring and was sent to the Cubs’ spring training complex in Mesa, Ariz. He was eventually designated to Boise for the second time in three years. Huseby made 15 starts for the Hawks in 2007 and finished with the best ERA (3.39) in the Cub’s farm system.
“I had a good spring and getting moved to Daytona, I think, I just added too much pressure on myself to try to (do) exactly what I did last year,” Huseby said. “I think that really kind of hindered me and hurt me.”
When unable to throw strikes from the mound, Huseby has been able to return to hitting.
He hit five home runs while recovering from Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery during his senior season in high school, and now he’s back in the batter’s box.
Cubs’ roving pitching coordinator Mark Riggins saw Huseby hit with the pitchers in Arizona and thought Huseby could try to hit and pitch.
“I saw how much fun he was having, so I kind (of) thought of it as therapy for him, to help him relax,” said Riggins, who also worked with Rick Ankiel when the former pitcher turned outfielder had problems throwing strikes with the St. Louis Cardinals. “I think it’s good therapy for him, to keep relaxed, instead of totally focusing on pitching. It helps him relax his mind and have fun coming to the ballpark every day.”
Huseby said batting has helped him clear his mind on the mound. He has yet to allow an earned run in two innings pitched this season. He’s struck out one and walked two.
“Getting those two outings out of the way and then tonight swinging the bat is a positive, mentally and physically,” he said.
Hawks manager Jody Davis has noticed a difference.
“I saw him last year at Peoria and he was lights out,” Davis said. “So we know what we got there if he throws his quality stuff. Hopefully, it will take his mind off of it or he’ll figure out how to hit. He’s just a good athlete. It’s unique that he can do that.”