11/02/09 6:36 PM ET
Strasburg sharp in longest pro outing
Top '09 pick stifles Rafters ahead of Rising Stars start
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
The 21-year-old sensation out of San Diego State made his delayed fourth AFL outing on five days' rest to set him up to start Saturday's Rising Stars Game, and he again looked the part.
Strasburg was consistent and methodical with flashes of awe-provoking stuff in raising his record to 3-1 and lowering his ERA to 5.28.
"It's a long progression," he said. "I just want to fine-tune everything. You can't settle for what you've done in the past. They might figure you out, so you always have to be ready.
"It was a pretty decent day."
Strasburg was given an instant 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning at Surprise Stadium, on a two-RBI single by Chris Marrero followed by fellow Rising Star Grant Desme's single for another run, and he never looked back.
For a second consecutive start, the notable right-hander took the Rafters to school. The subject: Strasburg 101. A fastball clocked at 101 mph was one of four to hit triple digits in the first.
Even a pickoff throw to first base, on Dan Descalso after he had singled with one out in the first, tripped the radar at 92 mph. So both Phoenix first baseman Brandon Snyder and catcher Nevin Ashley could attest to Strasburg's good stuff.
His appearance in the road game -- about 25 miles west of the Desert Dogs' Municipal Stadium digs -- provoked a relative rush on the box office, with many in the eventual gathering of 456 walking up to line up for tickets as first pitch approached.
Strasburg didn't disappoint. His next appearance will be quite higher profile as he starts Saturday night for the Eastern Division in the AFL's all-star game on the MLB Network.
The Nationals' and the nation's No. 1 choice in June's First-Year Player Draft walked one and struck out six, all swinging, most of them at biting sliders into the dirt.
Strasburg stretched out to 68 pitches, 43 of them strikes, in the five innings, two outs beyond his previous longest outing, the 4 1/3-inning turn last Tuesday against Surprise.
As was the case then, Surprise broke through against him in his last inning. Brandon Laird led off the fifth with a double off diving left fielder Corey Brown's glove, and he worked his way home on a pair on infield grounders.
"I wanted to go out and build off the previous start," said Strasburg, whose timetable calls for him to reach to 75 pitches before the AFL schedule runs out in a couple of weeks.
It's all about building back up an arm that had essentially been holstered for four months. At San Diego State, it wasn't unusual for Strasburg to approach 130 pitches in a close game, although coach Tony Gwynn normally took him out of blowouts after he crossed 100. But that last collegiate outing was on May 29.
"Coach Gwynn was really protective of me," Strasburg said. "It's a gradual progression, and I just have to stay on my program."
Strasburg's effort reinforced the notion that, regardless the stature of the man in the middle, baseball is a nine-man game. The Rafters hit numerous hard shots, but right at fielders.
The best defensive play behind Strasburg was turned by third baseman Josh Bell, who charged a third-inning bunt by Jarrod Dyson and nailed him with a strong, sidearm throw.
Paul Menhart, a pitching coach in the Nationals' organization, is chaperoning Strasburg here in the same capacity with the Desert Dogs. Skull sessions with Menhart are all part of the education.
"I talk to him a lot," Strasburg said, "particularly about the mental game. He's been around the game for a long time, and I listen to everything he has to say.
"One of the biggest things has been learning to call your own game. In college, the coach pretty much calls the game, so you don't have any input. Here, you have to think about what pitch to make."
At least, Strasburg has to be concerned only with making his pitch, not hitting it. He seems to have the easier task.