UPDATE, 9:15 p.m. Strasburg has been done now for about 80 minutes, his final act being an inning’s worth of work in the bullpen following his three innings in the game, to bridge the difference between the 33 pitches he threw and the 50 he was supposed to throw. He is doing his normal post-start routine — icing his arm and doing some conditioning work — before meeting the media.
Strasburg showed obvious progress from his last start to this one. Although he threw a high percentage of strikes both times, this time his pitches appeared more refined — he threw to spots, as opposed to throwing strikes for strikes’ sake. He also worked in more curve balls and change ups, both to devastating effect. If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear this guy was ready to take on the Phillies tomorrow.
But as we all know, this is a long process, and the Nationals certainly aren’t going to speed it up now. He will start again on Wednesday (based on scheduling, with Harrisburg and Potomac both on the road, I would guess he will be in Hagerstown), and probably three more times after that, leading up to a season debut in Washington on or about Sept. 6. That’s an educated guess, so don’t buy tickets then blame me when the date changes.
UPDATE, 7:46 p.m. Strasburg had his best inning in either outing so far, going strikeout-strikeout-tapper back to the mound to retire the top of the Pelicans' order in a mere eight pitches (seven strikes). That's only 33 pitches total in three innings, but Potomac's bullpen is warming up, so that appears to be the end of Strasburg's night, even though he was well short of his 50-pitch limit. At this point, the Nationals are just as concerned with how many times he gets up and down to pitch, as with his pitch total. So if that's the end, his line looks like this: three innings, two hits, no runs, no walks, five strikeouts. And if you're keeping track, that's eight strikeouts and no walks in his two outings combined, totaling 4 2/3 inning.
UPDATE, 7:29 p.m.: Another good inning, with two strikeouts, no hard-hit balls and one fastball that clocked in at 99 mph on the stadium gun. There were, however, two baseunners, on an infield single by Myrtle Beach’s Ryan Strasbourger (no, the name is not made up; maybe he’s a long-lost distant cousin) and an error on Potomac second baseman Jeff Kobernus. The 99 mph heater produced the first strikeout of the inning, while the second came on a knee-buckling curve ball. Thirteen pitches in the inning, 10 strikes. That’s 25 pitches through two innings.
UPDATE, 7:12 p.m.: Strasburg had a solid first inning, allowing only an infield single to Myrtle Beach’s Travis Adair (on a close call at first base), striking out one, and reaching 98 mph on the stadium radar gun. (I’ll double-check the velocities with scouts’ guns later.) He threw fastballs on his first three pitches, but soon began mixing in his breaking ball and change up. I counted three change ups in the inning, one of which coaxed a swing-and-miss. He threw 12 pitches in the inning, nine for strikes.\
Greetings from Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge. It’s Ian Desmond Bobblehead Night, as the PA announcer just reminded us. And it’s also Stephen Strasburg’s second minor league rehabilitation start, and his first in the uniform of the Potomac Nationals of the Class A Carolina League.
Batting practice is over now. (I was particularly impressed with the 60-ish gentleman wearing shorts who took his cuts alongside the “P-Nats” players, roping a handful of well-struck line drives in the gap, and who turned out to be Thomas M. Davis, the former Republican congressman from Virgina and a close friend of the team’s owner.)
Unless my memory is faulty (always a possibility), this is Strasburg’s first professional appearance in the Commonwealth of Virginia, even though he is a part-time resident, having lived in the northern Virginia suburbs while pitching for the Washington Nationals last season.
Here are the essentials for tonight: Strasburg will throw three innings or 50 pitches against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, a Texas Rangers affiliate. Even though this is a new atmosphere for him, he is in some familiar company. His catcher tonight, Sandy Leon, caught Strasburg’s first three starts in the instructional league in the fall of 2009, and Potomac pitching coach Paul Menhart was Strasburg’s pitching coach in the Arizona Fall League in 2009.
I’ll have updates after each of Strasburg’s innings – as long as I can humanly do so. The working conditions here are not ideal, as the press box isn’t big enough for the 50-odd media members (down from 65 in Hagerstown on Sunday), so the media are set up in front of the press box on metal bleachers, staring into the setting sun. So if this starts reading like a Boswell chat (which is to say, full of typos), it’s because I can’t see my screen. And if my updates never get posted, it’s because the wireless signal keeps cutting in and out.
But I’ll do my best. I may not bring the heat like Strasburg, but I’m a crafty, junkballing veteran.