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Strasburg sees a lot of good in bad situations

August 18, 2011|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com
  • Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg wipes the sweat from his face while pitching Wednesday for the Hagerstown Suns in the second inning against the Lexington Legends.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Stephen Strasburg is obviously pretty secure with himself as an athlete.

The Washington Nationals pitching ace got knocked around in his third rehabilitation outing in his comeback trek to the majors after Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery.

It wasn’t his best day on the mound and yet he was relieved to have it that way.

Strasburg threw 49 pitches in 1 2/3 innings work on Wednesday in his second start for the Hagerstown Suns. Still, he was upbeat after hitting a pothole on his way back to the Nationals’ starting rotation.

“Sometimes it’s good to have games like this because you have to get knocked around a little bit to see what you have been doing wrong,” said Strasburg as the Suns were completing a 9-6 comeback victory over Lexington. “I learned a lot from this. I think I have some things to work on. It’s another step in the road and I’ll get better from here.”

It definitely wasn’t like his first two starts in his 30-day rehab assignment in the minors — all against Single-A players thus far.

The first outing came Aug. 7 at Municipal Stadium against Greensboro when Strasburg lasted 1 2/3 innings and allowed a run on three hits — including a homer — while striking out three. He was on a 35-pitch or two inning limit.

The second round came at high Single-A Potomac where he pitched three scoreless innings, allowing just two infield hits while striking out five. He was scheduled to go three innings or 50 pitches, but only threw 31.

On Friday, it was a similar assignment, but Lexington didn’t let the top selection in the 2009 draft off so easily. The Legends pushed back, connecting freely on Strasburg’s fastball and scoring five runs in the five-out outing. He threw 33 of his 49 pitches in the first inning alone.

“I feel good. It sucks I couldn’t go three innings today,” Strasburg said. “My velocity jumped a little more from last time. The breaking ball was a little more inconsistent than the last time so I got into some bad habits out there.”

Lexington came out and attacked Strasburg before he got into any kind of groove. The Legends scored three runs in the first and two in the second on four hits — three of them doubles. He also allowed two walks, both to Delino DeShields Jr. and both resulting in runs.

“I felt like I was throwing strikes but when you got guys going out there that you know that they are going to be ambushing you from the first pitch,” Strasburg said. “I thought I was throwing my pitches down, looking back on it, but where I was trying to throw it wasn’t where I needed to.”

Lexington played a different type of game against Strasburg. The Legends didn’t come up and take strikes like most major leaguers. They started hitting the first pitch they saw, almost as a defense mechanism.

“It’s tough to get them to swing through pitches when they are swinging at the first pitch. It was almost like they had a hypersensitive approach They tried to jump out and cheat to the fastball because they didn’t want to have to get to two strikes. That was the hard part for me today.”

Although the outing wasn’t what Strasburg wanted or was used to, all the negatives were a positive in his comeback bid.

The long first inning ate up pitches, but forced Strasburg to work through struggles. The Suns’ first-inning rally forced him to cool off a little longer before retaking the mound.

And, even though things had been going well in the comeback, they aren’t perfect yet.

“I didn’t want them to pull me out. It was one of those nights that I didn’t have command of my pitches like I did in the past,” Strasburg said. “I wanted to go three innings, no matter what.

”In the bigger picture it’s all about pitch counts now and it’s all about getting your work in. I’m lucky enough to be in an organization that they take rally good care of you and for right now it was a good learning experience out there. The bottom line is if I throw fastballs up that are a hair up like I did today, they’re going to get hit a country mile.”

Strasburg said he needs to get the feel back in his breaking pitches, which doctors told him would be the last thing to come back. Still, his pitch velocity is ahead of schedule and he still has time.

Strasburg’s next outing is scheduled for Monday with the Suns at Municipal Stadium, Nationals manager Davey Johnson confirmed in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday. The Suns will be opening a four-game series with Hickory. Johnson said Strasburg will pitch either four innings or 65 pitches, whichever comes first.

“My breaking ball command isn’t where it was in Potomac,” he said. “It kind of went backwards today. It didn’t feel like I was throwing it right, which was a good thing. If I was throwing it right and it wasn’t for a strike then I’d be kind of nervous. I know what I need to fix. We’ll see what happens next time.”

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