Black Sox batters face Australian ace on mound
New Black Sox coach Mark Sorenson is preaching the need for batting discipline as the world champions get set to face Australia's ace pitcher Adam Folkard.
The trans-Tasman rivals clash in the first of three tests in Auckland tomorrow night for their first duel since a 10-innings thriller at the same venue during last year's world championships.
The Black Sox won that playoffs-round encounter 5-4, and went on to clinch a record sixth world title.
But Sorenson yesterday acknowledged Folkard - whose fastball has been clocked at 135km - was "probably" the best pitcher in the world.
The tall righthander from Canberra had the Black Sox beaten with his high, inside deliveries until he departed from that strategy and saw his drop ball get a pounding.
Veteran Black Sox hitter Brad Rona slammed a two-run homer to inspire a Kiwi batting revival.
Sorenson said Folkard had "certainly set the standards" in world pitching in recent years. He threw two shutouts against the Kiwis when the Black Sox won the 2009 world title in Canada.
"He throws hard but that doesn't necessarily mean he's unhittable, as this group have shown previously," Sorenson said.
"We'll be looking to jump out early and try and control the at-bats. The key to us doing the job is going to be our discipline [at the plate]."
Sorenson said the Black Sox could not afford to let Folkard dictate the top of the strike zone.
Australia also have a world-class backup pitcher in lefthander Andrew Kirkpatrick, who led Auckland club Ramblers to the New Zealand open club championships title this month.
Sorenson said Kirkpatrick had pitched and batted well for Ramblers, but the Black Sox hitters had got a good look at him.
The Australian pitchers' duel with a Black Sox batting lineup led by Rona, new captain Nathan Nukunuku, Donny Hale and brothers Ben and Thomas Enoka should determine the outcome of the series, which ends with a double-header on Saturday.
The Black Sox have seven players backing up from the world championship and Australia have eight.
Australia have lost stalwarts such as Jeff Goolagong, their hitting hero last year, Michael Tanner, Kris Kiefel and Michael Gibson, but Sorenson said the Steelers still had Zenon Winters, Nick Shailes and Joel Southam, "who are pretty solid ball players who were part of their world championship [gold medal team in 2009] and play in North America".
Sorenson said Canterbury infielder Tyron Bartorillo was the likely replacement for absent shortstop Tyson Byrne. Bartorillo was the Black Sox's third baseman last year, but plays shortstop for Canterbury and his Papanui club.
Wellington shortstop Jerome Raemaki could play third base, or Rona, who now plays mainly at first base, could revert there.
The Black Sox will go into the series without a specialist pitching coach. Sorenson and assistant-coach Carl Franklin will share that role.