Strasburg impresses with speed, location in his return

Photo: Jay Westcott/Politico

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) - Stephen Strasburg was on target and up to speed. Twenty-five strikes. Only six balls. Upper 90s on the radar gun.

If Sunday's rehabilitation start was any indication, the Washington Nationals pitcher who was such a rookie phenomenon a year ago hasn't been derailed or deterred by Tommy John surgery.

Strasburg struck out four and allowed one run in 1 2-3 innings Sunday for the Class A Hagerstown Suns in his first competitive game since his elbow was rebuilt a year ago.

Strasburg gave up three hits to the Greensboro Grasshoppers, including an opposite field home run by Jacob Realmuto. But the 1-0 deficit when he left the game was immaterial compared to Strasburg's velocity and accuracy. He struck half the eight batters he faced, including the first two, and didn't throw a ball until his ninth pitch.

The Nationals had decided ahead of time that Strasburg would throw a maximum of two innings or 35 pitches.

The 23-year-old right-hander hadn't faced a batter in a live game situation since grabbing his right wrist following a pitch to Dominic Brown of the Philadelphia Phillies on Aug. 21, 2010. Strasburg had elbow reconstructive surgery Sept. 3, ending his rookie season with a 5-3 record and a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts, including an unforgettable debut in which he struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates.

Since then, Strasburg has meticulously worked through milestone after milestone in a long, lonely recovery. He began throwing a baseball again in February. He started throwing off a mound in May. He began pitching simulated games at the Nationals' spring training complex in Viera, Fla., last month.

Now he will work his way through the minors, making a serious of starts that should return him to the big league club in September, barring a setback. Strasburg's next start is expected to come Friday, although the Nationals have not announced a date or venue.

The game came 28 years to the day that Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famer Jim Palmer made the first of two rehab starts at Hagerstown, an event commemorated by a plaque at Hagerstown Municipal Stadium. Palmer pitched five innings and got the win on Aug. 7, 1983.

Strasburg's appearance was likewise a marquee event. Fans packed the stands at old ballpark, and the Nationals issued a 500-word set of media guidelines that was almost Olympian in detail.

The star attraction arrived about three hours before the game. Known for his reticence to embrace the trappings of celebrity, he emerged from a car and walked directly into the small clubhouse without acknowledging the two dozen fans who had formed an orderly line hoping for an autograph or at least a wave.