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Washington Nationals' Stephen Strasburg Returns To Triple-A, Starts For Syracuse Chiefs Tonight.

After a rough outing in his third rehab start, Stephen Strasburg, the Washington Nationals' 2009 no.1 overall pick, bounced back with a strong outing last time out in Hagerstown, throwing 60 pitches, 40 strikes for the Nats' low-A affiliate, recording 6 K's and allowing 2 hits and 2 runs, 1 earned in 3.0 innings. It was less of an event than his previous starts had been however, with a far smaller crowd than the 6,000+ fans and the reported 65 members of the media who had filled in every inch of available space in the 4,600-seat, 80-year-old Municipal Stadium for his first rehab start with the Suns several weeks earlier. 

"It seems like Hagerstown's getting used to me being here," the 23-year-old right-hander joked in his post game press conference, "So I think it's about that time to move on. But it's always great, the fans here are so supportive. Just to hear them wishing me luck, congratulating me on all the success I've had so far in the recovery, it makes me excited to get back up there in D.C. and be in front of Nats fans again." 

Strasburg won't be pitching in front of 40,000 fans in Nats Park tonight, but he will be throwing in what will reportedly be a sold-out crowd in 12,000-seat capacity Alliance Bank Stadium, where a then-22-year-old Strasburg's first Triple-A start last season drew an all-time record 13,766 to the home of the Syracuse Chiefs in May of 2010. 

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Asked what he needed to work on after his fourth start last Monday, Strasburg told reporters he's still trying to get a feel for his curve. "Just talking to [Nats' pitching coach Steve] McCatty the last few days, really helped me as far as establishing the mindset that I need to have when throwing that pitch. But right now it's all about proving it to myself, and the only way I can prove it to myself is to keep throwing it." 

"It's still not where it was," Strasburg explained, "So, I know there's always going to be room for improvement. All my other pitches are better than what they were before so I'm just waiting for [the curve] to be the same." Jordan Zimmermann, whose own recovery from Tommy John surgery has often been cited as the template for Strasburg's rehab, described a similar process, of getting all his pitches back to where they were pre-surgery, last winter when he discussed the differences he'd experienced with 106.7 the Fan's Bill Rohland and Danny Rouhier. Zimmermann said then that his slider was the last pitch to come back.

Before the surgery, Zimmermann said, "... my slider was my best pitch and my curve ball was just, okay I guess, but after surgery my slider just went away and I had a hard time throwing it and the curve ball then became [a] better pitch, and it was more of a 12-6, a true curve, and had some pretty good bite to it. But now that I started up again, the slider seems to be back and the curve ball seems to back, so I don't know, I guess that's a [best] case scenario."

Strasburg will once again be facing older/veteran hitters tonight when he and the Chiefs take on the Minnesota Twins' Triple-A affiliate, the Rochester Red Wings, whose roster is composed of players from two-to-ten years older than the Nats' pitcher, who told reporters last Monday he's looking forward to facing a higher level of competition, after he'd discussed the difficulties he'd had working against more free-swinging A-ball hitters. "I think it would help me out a lot, because I've never pitched at this level (Class-A) before," Strasburg said. "So this is kind of new, I'm still trying to figure out how these guys are going to approach me. It's different when guys are trying to ambush you on every pitch that comes close." 

"Before," Strasburg continued, "starting in Harrisburg last year and then going to Syracuse, guys have a plan, so I've really learned how to set guys up, [at Class-A] I don't even have a chance to set them up because they're already swinging." Strasburg's scheduled to throw 70-80 pitches tonight in what will be his seventh start at the Triple-A level. In six starts for Syracuse last season, Strasburg was (4-1) with a 1.08 ERA, 1.94 FIP, .154 BAA, .218 BABIP-against, seven walks (1.89 BB/9) and thirty-eight K's (10.26 K/9) in 33.1 IP before he made his MLB debut. 

Rehab start no. 5 takes place at 7:05 pm EDT tonight. You can watch it on with a subscription...