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Tuesday, July 10, 2007 | Jake Peavy led the National League in strikeouts in 2005 as an overpowering right-hander. Back then, his attitude was to strike out every batter.

Two seasons later, Peavy again leads the league in strikeouts at the 2007 All-Star Game break with a 9-3 record. Although he has finally absorbed advice to be content to set the side down rather than strike out the side.

So what gives? Peavy, named the starter for tonight’s 78th All-Star Game in San Francisco, has the kind of stuff that overpowers batters whether they whiff or make contact.

“I’m trying to throttle it back,” Peavy said. “I’m trying to pitch for contact and save some of those bullets for later in the game and not get blown out in the third or fourth inning trying to strike everyone out. It’s definitely something I needed to work on, and I’ve gotten better at it.”

Consistency was the element missing from Peavy’s game in 2004, when he was 15-6 with a 2.27 ERA that led the league; again in 2005, when he was 13-7 with 216 strikeouts that led the league; and again in 2006, when he was 11-14 with 215 strikeouts that was second in the league.

“It’s still nice to strike out guys during the game, but I want to win games and not give up runs,” Peavy said. “A lot of it is being more mature. When you’re younger, you hear it but it’s harder to put it into practice. I need to do it on a more consistent basis this year.”

Peavy is one win shy of double-digit victories for the fifth straight year through 17 starts. All that has prevented him from reaching 10 wins by now is the Padres’ weak-hitting offense that has contributed to no-decisions or losses.

On April 25 at Arizona, he struck out 16 batters and didn’t allow a run through seven innings, but he didn’t get a decision when the Padres lost 3-2.

A 20-win season might depend on run support rather than his ability to take the mound every fifth day and provide the Padres with a chance to win by lasting into the sixth and seventh innings or beyond.

“His first half speaks for itself, and it’s been validated by an All-Star selection,” said Bud Black, the Padres’ first-year manager. “He’s been real consistent.”

Padres general manager, Kevin Towers, and others in the organization have long talked about Peavy’s potential to be a dominant pitcher in the mold of a Roger Clemens. Peavy is in his fifth full Major League season at the age of 26 after coming up midway through the 2002 season.

But the label each year has been that “he could be” or “he’s going to be” a Cy Young-candidate pitcher. Just give him a couple of years. Consider the wait over and the label shed.

“Absolutely, he’s one of the best pitchers of our era,” said Marcus Giles, the Padres new second baseman who plays behind Peavy after facing him in the past with the Atlanta Braves. “He’s fun to watch and it’s a lot of fun to play behind him. He throws strikes and gets ground balls. He keeps the middle infielders on their toes and busy and that makes for fun games.”

On Monday, National League Manager Tony LaRussa of the St. Louis Cardinals added to Peavy’s elevated status around the league when he picked the 6-foot-1-inch, 180-pounder as his starter.

“It’s an honor, without question, to take the ball for the National League, this franchise and this city,” said Peavy on Sunday before he left for San Francisco and learned LaRussa had named him the starter.

Similar to Giles, Black is in his first season of getting an up-close view of Peavy after previously working in American League dugouts as the Los Angeles Angels’ pitching coach.

“I had heard so much about him; word gets around and nothing really surprises you,” Black said. “But one thing I see is how much emotion and passion he plays the game with. He talks to himself on the mound and he’s animated. But along with that he never loses composure. That awareness is very important.”

Yes, Peavy has long possessed potential and all-star credentials as the Padres’ lone All-Star pick in 2005. But he has never been what he is now: an automatic pick, a given, for the All-Star Game.

“This is my second time,” Peavy said, “and hopefully they’ll be a lot more.”

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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