Strasburg sharp in first rehab start since surgery
Nationals ace throws 31 pitches, including 25 for strikes
HAGERSTOWN, Md. -- Stephen Strasburg was met by about 30 fans at Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown when he arrived Sunday in a white Lexus LS 460, three hours prior to his first rehabilitation start since undergoing Tommy John surgery last September.
Strasburg politely declined to sign autographs, because there was simply not enough time to appease everyone who swarmed around him holding out pens, programs and baseballs. On a day filled with pomp and spectacle because of his much-anticipated return, Strasburg was all business and didn't appear distracted by the overflow crowd or throng of media following his every step.
The right-hander, who was the No. 1 overall pick by the Nationals in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, started strong for Class A Hagerstown, throwing eight consecutive strikes against Greensboro. Strasburg eventually threw 31 pitches over 1 2/3 innings -- 25 strikes and six balls -- with four strikeouts and three hits, including a solo home run to Grasshoppers' catcher Jacob Realmuto.
After the game, Strasburg said he was happy with his command and velocity, which was around 97 mph, and did not hold back in the abbreviated start. Strasburg's start was also on the 28th anniversary of the first of two rehab starts for Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famer Jim Palmer in Hagerstown. It was the first time Strasburg pitched for the Suns and likely the last if he can get back to the same form prior to the surgery.
"When you got the adrenaline going, you really don't know how you're going to throw," Strasburg said. "I went out there and once they said, 'Play ball,' I got that feeling back where you want to play. I wasn't really nervous. I had pretty good expectations. I knew I wasn't going to throw 100 [mph] every time."
Hagerstown lost the first game of the doubleheader, 7-5.
The standing-room-only crowd of more than 6,000 cheered each of Strasburg's pitches. It was likely the second-most attended game behind the more than 7,300 who showed up in 1983 to see the San Diego Chicken. The Suns were still tallying attendance into the second game.
Fans booed heartily when home-plate umpire John Burzynski had the audacity to call one of Strasburg's pitches a ball.
In the second inning, Strasburg started equally strong, throwing his first six pitches for strikes before allowing a solo home run, which just cleared the right-field fence.
After he reached 31 pitches, manager Brian Daubach pulled him with two outs with the Suns trailing, 1-0. Strasburg left to a standing ovation and a 5.40 ERA. He went directly to receive treatment for about an hour before meeting with the media.
"That was probably the hardest part," Strasburg said about being taken out of the game before the end of the second inning.
Strasburg could make as many as five more rehabilitation starts for the Nationals' affiliates on Aug. 12, 17, 22, two others in the final week of August and early September. He then could be added to the Nationals' active roster.
Strasburg could take the rotation spot vacated by Jordan Zimmermann once he goes over his allotted 160-inning limit this season.
"Obviously, my goal is to pitch in the big leagues in September," Strasburg said. "If it doesn't, that's not my call. It's a lot longer process than many people think. Come Spring Training next year, I should be back to normal."
Todd Karpovich is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.