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Great Scott, Don’t Call Him a Nolan Ryan Yet : Astro Pitcher, National League’s Strikeout Leader, Still in Awe of All-Time King

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Mike Scott figures that in 15 or so years the boys down at the bar can start talking, and the writers can begin comparing.

But until then, no one has the right to say Nolan Ryan has been replaced.

“If I play 20 more years, maybe, but I think Nolan Ryan’s in a class by himself,” Scott said. “I can’t see anybody pitching 20 years as well as he does. I really can’t. I’m not saying I couldn’t go that long, but he’s just unbelievable.”

Though he sounds like a young, rosy-cheeked pitcher, Scott, 31, has pitched on the same staff as Ryan for 2 1/2 years and great respect for the all-time strikeout leader.

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But it is Scott who is currently the National League’s strikeout leader. With nine strikeouts Sunday in the Astros’ 3-2 victory against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, he now has 115 for the season.

Nobody’s said he’s a latter-day Nolan Ryan, but with Ryan on the disabled list, talk is that the hottest pitch in Houston this year belongs to Scott.

Sunday he faced the No. 2 strikeout pitcher in the league in Fernando Valenzuela, who entered the game with 87. Seven innings later, Valenzuela (8-4) left after striking out nine, allowing eight hits and taking the loss. Scott gave up five hits over 8 innings and walked only two to go along with his nine strikeouts.

He did allow a ninth-inning home run to Franklin Stubbs, closing the Astros’ lead to the final score, but got Bill Madlock and Mike Scioscia to pop up before Dave Smith pitched the final out.

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“Fastball and down, that’s his strength,” Scott said of Stubbs’ hit to right field. “That’s my strength, but you don’t want to walk him. You got to put a strike there.”

Ryan’s motto exactly. And here’s another: Strikeouts don’t necessarily equate victories. Scott (6-4) is certainly finding that out this season.

Though he has struck out 56 and allowed only nine earned runs in his last six starts, he earned victories in only three. During that 47-inning stretch, Scott also gave up only three home runs. Yet because his teammates have backed him with only 16 runs, each victory has been hard labor.

“If we go on and win the whole thing, no one’s going to care what my record is,” he said. “I just go out there and try to keep us in the ballgame. If I win, fine. If a reliever wins it, fine. It’s just frustrating to pitch a good game and lose.”

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Scott has also learned from Ryan the art of accepting defeat gracefully.

“He’s helped me a lot by just being around him, seeing him work,” said Scott, who went to college at Pepperdine. “He’s a real pro. He takes his wins and takes his losses. And he’s had his frustrating spells where he’s pitched well and we haven’t won. But he just takes it in stride, cause whatever’s going to happen is what’s going to happen.”

Scott, who had a 2.79 earned-run average going into the game, threw 137 strikeouts in his 18-8 season last year. Already, however, he is closing in on last year’s strikeout total, and he attributes it to the improvement of a split-fingered fastball, which he uses to set up his speed pitch. His slider is now rarely used.

“He’s a different pitcher now than before when he was without a split-fingered fastball,” said Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia.

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