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McClung's major foes in hiding

Seth McClung knows he could be headed for trouble every time he goes on the Internet. He just can't help himself.

The Devil Rays pitcher said he is drawn to the chat rooms and Web sites where the team is examined in excruciating detail. He wants to know what the fans are saying about him.

He admitted what he reads isn't always so nice.

"I try to stop but my mind gets the best of me," McClung said Friday at the Naimoli Complex. "I want the respect of my teammates and the respect of the fans, so I guess that's why I go and look."

Don't expect any slack this season either.

McClung and his 95-mph fastball should be part of a starting rotation expected to be better simply because it is a year older. Nearly three years after Tommy John surgery, the big right-hander finally is supposed to show what he can do.

"He's got the kind of stuff where his potential is unlimited," pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "He has a chance to do some good things in this game."

A chance that could hinge on how McClung deals with something no amount of practice or conditioning can fix.

McClung, 25, said he has dyslexia, a disorder that in his case makes it difficult to internalize information and remember sequences of commands. Sometimes when reading scouting reports, he said, he confuses player names and tendencies.

He said he has asked Butcher to provide tutorials to help make the information stick.

"I need someone to help me learn it," McClung said. "I need reinforcement through another person."

He said it is the same trying to break down videotape of himself or an opponent: "They can't just say, "Here's some tape about David Ortiz.' "

McClung said he has had learning problems since growing up in Lewisburg, W. Va., where his teachers believed he needed glasses.

"I could see the board fine," he said. "But getting it in my mind from the board to the paper was tough. It's not an everyday debilitating thing. I just get confused sometimes.

"People see me saying I'm dyslexic like it's a crutch. I'm saying, "No, I'm dyslexic. I have to learn differently, but I really want to.' "

Butcher said he wants to help.

"My job is to give him everything possible," he said. "If he needs something extra I'm going to give it to him. We'll go through sequences (of pitches), counts. We'll go through scouting reports in a different way."

McClung, 6 feet 6, 250 pounds, still was spectacular at times last season.

He earned a a 3-2 win over the Blue Jays in which he retired his first 13 batters and pitched eight innings, and a 1-0 victory over the Indians in which he faced just 28 batters in eight innings.

He held right-handed hitters to a .197 average, second-best in the American League.

But McClung also had major problems, going 7-11 with a 6.59 ERA in 34 appearances. He was 0-2 with an 11.09 ERA in 17 relief outings, was twice demoted to Triple-A Durham and had four starts of fewer than three innings.

McClung said there were issues beyond dyslexia.

Though rehab from his June 2003 elbow surgery was successful, he said he had yet to regain full arm strength. Bad mechanics hurt his control. And the injury lurked in the back of his mind.

"It's tough," he said. "You're always thinking, "I'm sore. Am I going to be all right?' You sit there and tell the trainers it hurts and they tell you it's normal. But you're struggling to find out what normal is."

McClung said he would love to explain all this to the fans who slam him on the Internet but he doesn't answer, figuring it does no good to get into a debate. He does, however, print the most abusive posts for his "Prove Them Wrong" folder.

"I read everything that's said about me," McClung said. "It shakes you, but I'm trying as hard as I can."

He can't help himself.

DYSLEXIA IN SHORT

Dyslexia is an impairment, usually from genetics or a brain injury, in one's ability to read and spell. People with dyslexia often are of above intelligence, are very competent in oral language and have good memory skills. According to the International Dyslexia Association, about 15 percent of the population has dyslexia.

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