WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 11: Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Houston Astros at Nationals Park on September 11, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Though he acknowledged that he and pitching coach Steve McCatty noticed it, telling reporters, "I was a little concerned [when] in the second inning his velocity dropped a little bit," Nationals' manager Davey Johnson explained after Stephen Strasburg's second rehab start last Sunday that he thought the drop in the right-hander's fastball speed had more to do with the weather at Nats Park, and noted that it had nothing to do with his decision to lift the right-hander after only 3.0 IP.
"I think it was because it was hot out there," Johnson said, acknowledging that Strasburg was a little annoyed that he'd only gotten in three innings of work, "... but I explained to him, I said, 'Look, I don't want to go out and have to hook you during the inning, and as far as I'm concerned it's like your second time out in Spring Training, pitching in big league camp, and that's enough.'"
"I never really watch it that much," the Nats' skipper, referring to radar readings which got a lot of attention. "[Pitching Coach Steve] McCatty was over there like [the] mother hen he is having a heart attack, wanting to run out there, and I said, 'There's nothing wrong with 92.' The one time I think the radar gun got stuck and stayed on 92, and he threw another one, but he had a pretty good changeup, and he looked fine, but I think the reason he didn't throw hard during the second inning was because of the temperature. A little hot."
Strasburg didn't express any concerns about his velocity, explaining after the game that control issues had caused problems early, running his pitch count up to 31 pitches in the first, and leading to an abbreviated outing. "There was a little command [issue] on certain pitches and stuff that I was struggling with," Strasburg told reporters, "At the same time, they were fouling a lot of pitches off, so I think that's what ran my pitch count up in the first inning. If I threw pitches a little bit down in the zone more, maybe they would have been ground balls instead of foul balls into the stands."
Overall, however, Strasburg said that after the game, "It felt pretty good. Just went out there, I was kind of rushing a little bit, lower half was drifting causing the command to kind of not be there. I was able to make an adjustment the next two innings, and if I wasn't on a pitch count it would have been nice to go out there and pitch longer in the game, but that's how it's going to be sometimes, you're not going to go out there and feel perfect every time."
Strasburg threw 56 pitches in 5.0 scoreless in his first start for the Nationals after six minor league rehab outings in which he was dominant at times, but also struggled as expected. Last Sunday he threw 57 pitches in 3.0 IP, but allowed just one run on three hits. Nats' GM Mike Rizzo, in an appearance on the MLB Network show "The Rundown", said he was comfortable with the way things have gone so far. "Every pitch he's thrown has been monitored and we know exactly where he's at, and the good thing about [Strasburg] is he hasn't had one setback, and so he was on a clear path in his rehab program, and we feel that we haven't seen the best of Stephen Strasburg yet."
Will the Florida Marlins see the best of Stephen Strasburg tonight? At 7:05 pm EDT, Strasburg makes his third major league start of 2011, his ninth start overall including his six minor league rehab outings. Wins, losses, fastball speed, pitch counts, K totals, none of that really matters right now, what matters is that Strasburg gets through the season without any setbacks and starts the 2012 season healthy. We might not see the best of Stephen Strasburg this year, but not at his best, the 23-year-old right-hander has still been pretty impressive.