10:40 p.m.: A few choice quotes from Stephen Strasburg:
*“Everything feels great, so I’m ready to go out there and battle for the Nationals.”
*“The work isn’t done. I need to keep on grinding. Finish the season strong. Go into the offseason healthy, and see what kind of pitcher I am in 2012.... By no means do I think I’m done. I still have to go up there and keep working hard, doing everything I’ve been doing to get to this point.”
*“I’m still learning a lot out there. I’m starting to realize I don’t need to dial it up every time out there to get guys out.”
8:58 p.m.: And indeed, Strasburg is out of the game, replaced by lefty Pat McCoy. Strasburg’s line: 6 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K. Adding up his six rehab starts: 20 1/3 IP, 14 H, 8 ER, 3 BB, 29 K. That’s good for a 3.54 ERA.
8:51 p.m.: The sixth inning was by far Strasburg’s most challenging, as he had to pitch around a leadoff double to Dan Butler, which broke up his no-hitter. Strasburg made a nice play on a comebacker, catching Butler in a rundown between second and third, and he collected his fourth strikeout of the night when Ryan Dent swung through a curve ball. Ryan Khoury lined out to shortstop for the third out. The inning took 17 pitches (14 strikes), which puts Strasburg at 71 (54 strikes) for the game. I’m guessing he is done for the night, as there has been action in the Senators' bullpen, and Strasburg’s limits for the night were six innings or 80 pitches, whichever came first.
His velocity also appears to be down slightly from the start of the game, as his fastball in the sixth inning was sitting at 93-94 mph, topping out at 95. From this angle, it’s difficult to tell how many of them were two-seamers, which have a slightly lower velocity.
Meantime, the Senators now lead 9-0 after Stephen King’s grand slam in the bottom of the fifth — which also featured a leadoff double into the right field corner by Pudge Rodriguez. Barring a major meltdown, the Senators will clinch their division tonight, with Strasburg the winning pitcher.
8:20 p.m.: Strasburg lost his perfect game with two outs in the fifth when he drilled SeaDogs center fielder Jeremy Hazelbaker in the ribs with a 97-mph fastball, but he has still faced the minimum, since Hazelbaker was caught stealing — perfect throw by Pudge Rodriguez — on the first pitch to the next batter. And the no-hitter is still intact. The other two batters in the inning went grounder to third, pop up to short. Eleven more pitches in the inning (eight strikes), which makes 54 pitches for the game (40 strikes).
And I still can’t get my head around the notion that the Cowboy Monkeys rode here all the way from Iowa for two minutes of chasing goats. And on top of that, they slept through their opportunity to meet Pudge Rodriguez.
8:13 p.m. The Cowboy Monkeys were a bit of a letdown, I must say. A couple of collies. A couple of monkeys. Four goats they were chasing. A bad cover of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” over the loudspeakers. The whole thing lasted maybe two minutes. Strasburg wasn’t impressed either. He never even looked up from his warm-up pitches.
8:03 p.m.: Twelve up, 12 down. The fourth inning featured Strasburg’s third strikeout of the game — with Ryan Khoury whiffing at a change up — plus a weak grounder to third and a fly out to the warning track in right off the bat of SeaDogs second baseman Oscar Tejada. Eight pitches in the inning (five strikes), and 43 (32 strikes) for the game.
Meantime, the Senators have upped their lead to 4-0 on a three-run homer by Tim Pahuta in the bottom of the third.
And more importantly, we are only a half-inning away from the Cowboy Monkeys.
7:44 p.m.: Nine up, nine down for Strasburg. The third inning was less dominant than the first two — OK, that sounds like quibbling, but that’s what we’re reduced to — as Strasburg coaxed a grounder to short, a weak fly out to left and a solid line-out (on a 97-mph fastball) to right. Eleven pitches in the inning (nine strikes), and that makes 35 through three innings. And by the way, the Senators are up 1-0 after Leonard Davis lined an RBI single in the bottom of the second.
Also, meant to mention this earlier, but there’s a large contingent of Nationals front-office types here, including Mark Lerner, Mike Rizzo, Bob Boone, Doug Harris and Spin Williams. They’re all excited to see the Cowboy Monkeys.
7:29 p.m. : Another 1-2-3 inning for Strasburg in the second, with his second strikeout of the game coming on a 99-mph heater. Shortstop Mark Wagner became the first SeaDog to hit a ball out of the infield, making solid contact on a change up and lining it to left for the first out if the inning. Thirteen pitches in the inning, and 24 now for the game. I think I hear the Cowboy Monkeys cackling at the SeaDogs' futility.
7:14 p.m.: Strasburg breezed through the first inning in 11 pitches (nine strikes), going strikeout/6-3/6-3 against the top of the Portland SeaDogs’ order. His fastball sat at 96 mph and topped out at 99, while he also threw a couple of excellent curve balls and a pair of change ups. The strikeout, against third baseman Ryan Khoury, came on a nasty curve ball in the dirt.
Original post: This could be the greatest night in the history of the Harrisburg Senators, if not all of minor league baseball. Not only is Stephen Strasburg here at Metro Bank Park to make his sixth — and possibly final — rehabilitation start, exactly 363 days since he underwent Tommy John surgery. But future Hall-of-Famer Pudge Rodriguez is here, also on a rehab assignment, to catch him.
And best of all, the “Cowboy Monkeys” are here to provide between-innings entertainment. Apparently, these are monkeys trained to ride dogs in the manner of cowboys riding bulls. Some three hours before the game, Pudge and I visited the trailer where the monkeys hang out, hoping to get an audience, but were told we could not see them — because they needed to get their sleep, having been unable to sleep while the troupe made its way to Harrisburg (from somewhere in Iowa) this afternoon.
The only thing that might have made this night better would have been if Bryce Harper were healthy enough to play. Alas, the 18-year-old phenom is still out with a strained hamstring. Harper, however, did run in the outfield for the first time since his injury, and Nationals farm director Doug Harris told me the team hopes Harper can be activated in time for the playoffs — for which the Senators have already qualified.
“We want him to experience that,” Harris said. “But getting him absolutely healthy is the main goal here.”
Strasburg, who will be on a limit of 80 pitches tonight, will be trying to help the Senators clinch first place in the Eastern League’s western division, which they can do with a win tonight. Barring a setback, Strasburg’s next start after tonight will be Tuesday night at Nationals Park against the Los Angeles Dodgers.