In several appearances on tv and radio in the last two days, Washington Nationals' General Manager Mike Rizzo has discussed 23-year-old right-hander Stephen Strasburg's rehab, which continued tonight with the Nats' '09 1st Round pick making another three inning/50 pitch start for the Class-A Hagerstown Suns. In an appearance on MASN last night, the D.C. GM described what he called a "subtle" change to Strasburg's mechanics, explaining that, "He's throwing at much more of a down plane angle than he was previously, and that's by design," but more importantly, Rizzo continued, "He's going to have a different mindset on the mound and do a little bit more of the Jordan Zimmermann kind of a plan where instead of going for 10 strikeouts per nine innings, maybe seven and a half and eight and getting more efficiency per pitch."
Asked by a (humorously) incredulous FP Santangelo how a pitcher who can throw 100 mph can pitch to contact, the Nats' General Manager responded, "How about throttle it back to a two-seamer at 97 and get more swings and misses early or weak contact early in the at bat?" In his first two starts, Strasburg threw 64 pitches, 51 strikes, giving up five hits and 1 ER in 4.2 IP in which he struck out nine without allowing a walk. Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson speculated before today's start that with Jordan Zimmermann two or three starts away from reaching his innings-limit in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery, Strasburg could be back up in the Majors as soon as September 2nd.
On ESPN 980's "The Sports Fix" with Thom Loverro today, Rizzo once again addressed the criticisms the Nats have heard from around the baseball world about how they're handling Strasburg and "rushing" him back in some people's opinions. "[Strasburg] like Jordan Zimmermann before him and other guys before him that we have in our system who aren't as well known as Strasburg, we rehab and develop these guys with one thing in mind, 'What is the long-term impact that they can have for our organization?' It would be a bad move business-wise and certainly baseball-wise to rush this guy to sell a ticket or two, sell out a game or two, so that stuff is nonsense."
"The San Diego, California kid who captivated," the baseball world, as the Suns' announcer describes him, takes the mound for the second time for the Suns and throws a 97 mph first pitch fastball in for a strike to the son of former Montreal Expos' infielder Delino DeShields, Delino DeShields, Jr. DeShields works a leadoff walk, the first by Strasburg so far in his rehab starts, and Strasburg surrenders on an RBI double on the first pitch he throws to Tyler Burnett, who lines one off the wall in right to get the Lexington Legends out to a 1-0 lead.
An errant thow home in an attempt to get DeShields at the plate allows Burnett to take third and he scores on RBI single by Domingo Santana. 2-0 Legends and another RBI double by Telvin Nash makes it 3-0 before an out is recorded. It takes Strasburg 25 pitches to get the first out of the inning, but the right-hander retires the next two batters in order, and he's at 33 pitches after allowing a walk, three hits and three runs in the first.
The Suns tie it up in the bottom of the frame on a three-run HR by Suns' outfielder Kevin Keyes, and Strasburg comes back out with 17 pitches left to throw. After striking out the first batter he faces, Roberto Pena, Strasburg surrenders the fourth hit of the night, a one-out double by Emilio King and walks DeShields to put two batters on as he approaches his pitch-limit. Strasburg throws a wild pitch that lets both runners advance but then strikes out Tyler Burnett for his third K and the end of his day. Suns' reliever sam Brown allows both runners he inherits to score, so Strasburg gives up 4 hits, 5 ER total, and two walks while recording three K's and throwing 49, 29 strikes in a quick 1.2 inning outing.
Reports from the game said the velocity was there, but a combination of control issues and an Ump that was squeezing him have a frustrated Strasburg done early, but through his third rehab start which is all that really matters.
More from Strasburg's post game comments later tonight...