By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 28, 2010; D05
READING, PA. -- If Stephen Strasburg vs. the hitters of the Eastern League was ever a fair fight, it is certainly the case no longer. In the fourth start of his professional career, Strasburg, the big right-hander considered the top pitching prospect in baseball, was literally unhittable against the Reading Phillies, and it is getting harder to come up with reasons why it is in his best interests to remain at this level.
Strasburg, the 21-year-old pride of the Washington Nationals' farm system, pitched five no-hit, no-walk, near-perfect innings Tuesday night for the Class AA Harrisburg Senators at First Energy Stadium, allowing his only base runner on a fifth-inning strikeout that eluded catcher Sean Rooney and allowed Michael Spidale to reach first base.
The performance -- which came in a 1-0 Senators victory in the first half of a doubleheader, with Strasburg driving in the only run with a fifth-inning single -- improved Strasburg's record to 3-0, lowered his ERA to 0.52, pushed his strikeout total to 23 (against only three walks) in 17 1/3 innings, and called into question whether there is anything left for him to learn in Class AA.
"I'm happy with where I'm at right now," Strasburg said. "I'm learning a lot. We have a great team [and] a great coaching staff. When the time comes [to be promoted], I'm going to be very excited. But I'm living in the now. . . . I definitely gotta stick with the program here, gotta go out there and keep building off the previous starts."
Strasburg needed only 64 pitches to navigate his five innings -- leaving the game, despite the no-hitter, because of a predetermined pitch limit -- and allowed only two balls to leave the infield, one fly ball each to left field and center field. He threw all of his pitches -- a fastball that reached 98 mph, a curveball and change-up -- for strikes, and only went to a three-ball count twice.
"From what I saw tonight, he was doing everything pretty much right," said Philadelphia Phillies all-star closer Brad Lidge, who pitched for Reading on a rehabilitation assignment following offseason knee and elbow surgeries. "It's not very often you see a guy throw that hard with that kind of command. Hopefully our hitters will figure him out after he gets called up."
For now, at least, Strasburg is scheduled to start next for the Senators on Sunday in Harrisburg, and the Nationals are believed to be leaning toward having him make at least a handful of starts at Class AAA Syracuse before calling him up to the majors by early June.