Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to make his second rehab start tonight for the Potomac Nationals in front of a sold-out crowd of what will be reportedly be around 5-6,000 P-Nats, Nats and Strasburg fans. After throwing 31 pitches, 25 of them strikes, in 1.2 IP on Sunday night for the Nationals' low-A affiliate in Hagerstown, the 23-year-old right-hander is expected to throw 3.0 innings and around 50 pitches tonight against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Texas Rangers' Class-A Affiliate.
Following Strasburg's first start since undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery on his elbow in late 2010, the Nats' '09 no.1 overall pick and the top pitching prospect in all of baseball before last season told reporters all he could think about was making his next start. "When you go out there, you get through the first inning," Strasburg said, "you go out there and do it again, and you just kind of get that itch to go out there and compete in five days and that's something that I haven't been able to experience for a long time."
Last July, Jordan Zimmermann made his second rehab start on the road back from Tommy John for the same Potomac Nationals Strasburg pitches for tonight. The then-24-year-old Zimmermann faced 11 batters from the Frederick Keys on the road at Harry Grove Stadium, home of the Baltimore Orioles' Class-A affiliate on July 8th 2010. The Nats' '07 2nd Round pick, struck out five, allowed one hit and threw 49 pitches total, 34 of them strikes in 3.0 innings of work, after which he told MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr, as quoted in an article at the time entitled, "Zimmermann dominates second rehab start, hits 96 MPH", he had been loose and felt his stuff and location improve over his first outing:
"'I felt ten times better today than I did in my last start. The location was way better today than my last start. I was locating for the most part all day long. I was coming inside and it was pretty much there all the time. I felt the off speed stuff and everything else was working well too.'"
Before Zimmermann's first rehab start last year Nats' pitching coach Steve McCatty told Washington Post writer Steve Yanda in a Nationals Journal post entitled, "Chien-Ming Wang, Jordan Zimmermann injury updates", his velocity was there and the curve was working, "He just needs to get out and throw some change-ups and get back into the mode of competition."
After dominating his second start, Zimmermann was tasked with working on his change with P-Nats' pitching coach Paul Menhart, and told to throw it more in his third start as InsideNova.com reporter Joe Conroy noted in an article entitled, "Kinston hands Zimmermann first loss this season", in which he wrote that, "Zimmermann said that in addition to building arm strength, his goal was to improve his control on his change-up, intending to throw around 10. He showed it off 11 times."
The right-hander threw 53 pitches total in his third outing then finished up his allotment of 65 in the bullpen. He was hit harder in that third start, surrendering six hits, two of them doubles, and one run in 4.0 innings in which he struck out four, but as Potomac's pitching coach told InsideNova.com's Mr. Conroy, "... he got his work in and that’s all that matters. Results are all relative for these starts. We’re just trying to get his pitch count up and keep him healthy."
Barring any setbacks or hiccups for Strasburg tonight, the same should hold for him, a third start somewhere in the system with an increased pitch-limit and a goal for improvement to focus on. Zimmermann made his first rehab start on July 3rd, and returned to the majors on August 26th after a short time (four starts) in Triple-A. Strasburg takes the second step in that process tonight.
• NOTE: Thanks to Cheryl Nichols (@cnichols14) for the Zimmermann/P-Nats pic. Cheryl and Dave Nichols (@NatsNewsNetwork) are in Potomac tonight if you want live updates. Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) is at the game too and will be reporting on the Twitter.