HAGERSTOWN, Md. -- Stephen Strasburg knew he needed to face some adversity in his Minor League rehab starts, even if he might not face the level of competition he will see once he returns to the Nationals' rotation in September.
Against the "hyper approach" of his Class A opposition in Hagerstown on Wednesday, Strasburg got just that.
The right-hander needed 49 pitches to get through 1 2/3 innings in his third rehab start since last September's Tommy John surgery, allowing five earned runs on four hits and two walks. He ended his day with a strikeout after starting it with a walk and three consecutive RBI hits against the Lexington Legends of the Astros' farm system.
"Sometimes it's good to have games like this, because you need to get knocked around a little bit to see what you've been doing wrong," said Strasburg, who struck out three. "I think I learned a lot from this."
He needed 33 pitches to get through three innings in his previous start Friday with Class A Potomac, but this time it took 25 pitches to get the game's first out. After inducing a groundout to first, he needed three more pitches to get his first strikeout, then four more to escape the inning with 32 pitches.
"Everything was so regulated before. Down in Florida, it was 15 pitches an inning, however many outs. They even stopped it in the middle of at-bats," Strasburg said. "It's good to kind of go out there and struggle, because there's going to be tough innings down the road -- not every outing is going to be a piece of cake.
"I was happy to go out there, get through the first tough inning, and then we put some runs up on the board, so it was a long inning to wait. I felt really good coming back out, so I was happy for that, because it was something I was unsure of."
Strasburg felt fine physically, but he struggled again when he took the mound for the second inning, showing signs of frustration as he threw his eight warmup pitches.
He struck out the inning's first batter, then allowed a double on the next pitch and walked Delino DeShields Jr. for the second time. Both runners scored after Strasburg exited to a standing ovation, clearly frustrated he could not go deeper.
The Suns rallied to take the lead and win, 9-6, taking Strasburg off the hook for a loss.
Strasburg threw 29 of 49 pitches for strikes and was pleased with his command. He wasn't missing his spots, he said, he was just throwing to the wrong spots -- a little high.
"A lot of it has to do with knowing how I need to pitch in the big leagues and staying with that," Strasburg said. "Unfortunately, it's not necessarily going to work at this level, because the approaches are so much different from guys you face in the big leagues. The bottom line is, if I throw fastballs just a hair up like I did today, they're going to be hit a country mile anywhere."
But Strasburg's fastballs were as fast as ever -- consistently between 96 and 99 mph -- an encouraging sign after he was told velocity would not return until about 18 months after surgery.
But he lost command of his breaking balls between starts, and he plans to adjust his mechanics before taking the mound on Monday -- likely in Hagerstown again.
"It didn't feel like I was throwing [breaking balls] right, which I guess is a good thing," Strasburg said. "If everything felt good and I still couldn't throw it for a strike, I'd be kind of nervous. I just need to get that feeling back, and once I can go out and throw it for a strike, it's going to enable me to throw the fastball and not have them jump at it every time."
Steven Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.