HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Stephen Strasburg did something Wednesday night he had yet to do in his road to recovery from Tommy John Surgery: he struggled.
In front of 3,021 fans — the smallest crowd yet for one of his rehab starts — Strasburg gave up five earned runs off four hits and two walks, including three doubles hit deep to the wall in right center field, and struck out three. He was pulled with two outs and two men on in the second inning (despite being scheduled for three) when his pitch count reached 49. His maximum was 50. His velocity was good, sitting 96-98 with his fastball and hitting 99. His curveball was also good, but his command was lacking with his breaking pitches and his fastball at times.
And while Strasburg looked none too pleased to be coming out of the game when Single-A Hagerstown Suns manager Brian Daubach popped out of the dugout to retrieve him, he was rational and analytical roughly two hours later when he met the media.
Strasburg will pitch again in five days, he said, which would put him at Monday and the only home affiliate is the Suns so chances are he will be back here very soon to redeem himself.
Here’s some of what Strasburg had to say:
On if it was, on some level, good to struggle the way he did: “Sometimes it’s good to have games like this because you need to kind of get knocked around a little bit to see what you’ve been doing wrong. I think I learned a lot from this outing especially… I think I have some things to work on. it’s just another step in the road. It can only get better from here.”
On if there was also a benefit to needing 33 pitches to get through the first inning: “That’s definitely a positive. I was kind of thinking about that when I came in. That’s good because everything was so regulated before then. Down in Florida, 15 pitches an inning, however many outs, they’d even stop it in-between an at-bat. It’s good to kind of go out there and struggle.
“There’s going to be some tough outings down the road. Not every outing is going to be a piece of cake and I was happy to go out there, get through the first tough inning and then we put some runs up on the board. It was kind of a long inning to wait. I felt good coming back out so I was pretty happy for that. That was something I was a little unsure of.”
On his command: “I thought I was throwing the ball down but I think where I was trying to throw it wasn’t necessarily where I needed to. I just need to throw the ball down a bit more. A lot of that has to do with just not being out there and really being in mid-season form. It’s just something you’ve got to work on. I thought I was commanding the ball pretty well but where I was trying to throw the ball was not where I need to.”
“In the past, there’s been games where I’ve felt even worse in the bullpen. I’ve gone out there and it’s just clicked. It didn’t happen tonight but a lot of it has to do with just knowing how I need to pitch up in the big leagues and staying with that.
“Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily going to work at this level. Guys, their approaches are so different than guys that you face in the big leagues. The bottom line is that if I throw fastballs that are just a hair up like I did today, they’re going to get hit a country mile anywhere.”
On how he feels, physically: “I feel good. It (stinks) that I couldn’t go three innings today but it should be a little easier next time. Velocity jumped a little bit more than it did last time. Breaking ball was a little more inconsistent than the last time so I kind of got into some bad habits out there. I know what I need to fix and it’s all about just going out there in the next bullpen and working on a few things and seeing what happens next outing.
“I didn’t want them to pull me. It was just one of those nights where I just didn’t have the command of my pitches like I had in the past. I wanted to go three innings no matter what but in the bigger picture it’s all about pitch counts right now, it’s all about getting your work in… For right now, I thought it was a good learning experience out there today. I’ve got some things to work on.”
On whether he can see the finish line (and the major leagues): “All I know is that I’ve got another outing. Rehab assignment’s 30 days. It’s going to be close. The end of the minor league season is coming up pretty fast. I’m just trying to get healthy. Unfortunately I got hurt so late last year that I really can’t do much this year. It’s not like I’m going to win a Cy Young in two weeks pitching in the big leagues. I’m just trying to get better, just trying to get stronger, just trying to get back the feeling that I had before and take that into the offseason.”
“I can definitely see (the finish line). I think the biggest thing I’m happy about is that here it is, I’m not even at a year, and my velocity is pretty much back to what it was. They told me the whole time that you’re probably not going to see the kind of velocity that you had before until 18 months. I think that’s just because I worked my butt off for this whole time… Right now they only tell me where I pitch next so that’s all I can really focus on. I don’t think anybody knows when I would be starting in the big leagues just yet.”