UPDATE, 10:18 p.m:
Strasburg was in good spirits when he spoke to the media, saying his arm feels good and chalking up his struggles to a combination of poor command of his breaking ball, a few fastballs left up in the zone and the hyper-aggressive approach of the Lexington hitters. Here are a few quotes:
On his performance: “Sometimes it’s good to have games like this, because you need to get knocked around a little bit to see what you’re doing wrong. I know what I need to fix… It’s good to go out there and kind of struggle, because there are going to be some tough innings down the road. Not every outing is going to be a piece of cake.”
On the Lexington hitters: “They almost had a hyper approach to what [opposing hitters] do off me. They try to cheat to the fastball early in the count, because they don’t want to get to two strikes… The bottom line is, if I throw fastballs that are just a hair up like they were today, they’re going to get hit a country mile, anywhere.”
On the positives: “Here it is, I’m not even a year out, and my velocity is pretty much back to where it was. They told me the whole time, ‘You’re probably not going to see the kind of velocity you had until 18 months [after surgery].’ And I think [the reason it is back is] because I worked my butt off this whole time.”
UPDATE, 7:49 p.m.:
Stephen Strasburg was scheduled to pitch three innings, but he didn’t even make it through two. He was yanked four batters into the second inning, having thrown 49 pitches, or one shy of his pitch limit. At the time, he had secured two outs – both on wicked curve balls for strikeouts – and had two runners still on base, courtesy of a line-drive double (the third off Strasburg in this game) and a walk. And after Strasburg left, both inherited runners came in to score.
That leaves Strasburg’s line a very unsightly one: 1 2/3 innings, four hits, five earned runs, two walks and three strikeouts. He also threw a wild pitch in the second inning.
Strasburg’s final pitch stands as perhaps the highlight of his night. With a 1-2 count to Legends left fielder Tyler Burnett, he threw a wicked curve ball that actually hit Burnett on the top of his back foot. Burnett swung himself into a knot, then hobbled off in pain, a very embarrassed strikeout victim.
UPDATE, 7:24 p.m:
A very rocky start for Stephen Strasburg, who needed 25 pitches just to record his first out and put the Suns in a 3-0 hole after only four batters. In all, he needed 33 pitches to navigate the first inning. Included in the damage was a leadoff walk (Strasburg’s first free pass of the season) and a pair of doubles to the wall in right-center. The third hit in the inning was a broken-bat flare to right. Both catcher David Freitas and pitching coach Chris Michalak made trips to the mound during the inning to calm Strasburg, who seemed out of sorts from the start.
Strasburg got no help from home plate umpire Mike Cascioppo, who denied Strasburg a strike call on a handful of borderline pitches. But we have rarely seen Strasburg so hittable. Those 33 pitches match the total he needed to close out three innings for Potomac five nights ago. At one point, Doug Slaten was warming up in the bullpen, as if Strasburg might get yanked.
But Strasburg finished the inning strong, collecting three straight outs from the fifth, sixth and seventh batters of the inning, including a beautiful curve ball to register his only strikeout of the inning. His velocity was fine, as his fastball topped out at 99 mph during the inning.
ORIGINAL POST: Greetings from Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown, Md. — “Hub City,” as it is known locally — where I will be reporting tonight on Doug Slaten’s rehabilitation stint with the Hagerstown Suns of the Class A South Atlantic League.
No, actually I’ll be focusing on Stephen Strasburg’s third minor-league rehab start. But Slaten, the Nationals’ lefty reliever, is also here and is expected to follow Strasburg to the mound against the visiting Lexington Legends.
Davey Johnson said earlier this week that Strasburg’s limits tonight would be four innings or 60 pitches, but we are being told now that the numbers are three and 50, same as his last start. Nothing should be read into that. It could be because his three innings for the Potomac Nationals five days ago went too smoothly — he needed only 33 pitches to complete them, then threw an additional 17 pitches in the bullpen — and the Nationals don’t want him to go from 33 in-game pitches to 60 in one leap. This rehab from elbow surgery has been a long, slow, grueling process, and the Nationals certainly don’t want to speed it up here at the end.
It appears as if Strasmania has died down a tad, after huge crowds and huge media packs turned out for his first two starts, in Hagerstown and Woodbridge. I’m told tonight’s crowd could be in the 3,000s — or perhaps half what it was on Aug. 7 in Strasburg’s first start. The media pack also appears to have thinned. I don’t have a solid number yet, but it will not come close to the 50-plus that turned out for the first two starts.
The security force, on the other hand, has been beefed up since the Aug. 7 game here, when a huge crowd of autograph seekers congregated near the clubhouse entrance before and after the game. (Strasburg declined to sign autographs before that game, but signed for a couple dozen kids afterward.) There were only two local police officers on hand for that game, but there will be at least six tonight.
Oh, and I should also point out tonight is “Fill Your Face” Wednesday at Municipal Stadium, in which one selected menu item from the concession stands is sold as all-you-can-eat. Not sure what the chosen menu item is tonight, but I’ll find out.
I’ll be live-blogging the action from Strasburg’s stint. Follow along, if you’re so inclined.