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“He didn’t waver,” Cathcart said. “He didn’t change his emotions. He kept going.”

He also wasted no time trying to figure out what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again. Strasburg talked to anyone and everyone who could offer advice. His teammates. His pitching coach with the Desert Dogs. His former pitching coach from San Diego State.

“He didn’t panic,” said fellow Nationals prospect and AFL teammate Drew Storen. “He just stepped back and evaluated the outing and looked at what he did and looked at what he needed to do next time. He’s a very cerebral guy.”

Those close to Strasburg came away more impressed with him in the wake of defeat than in victory, surprised by the novice professional’s advanced understanding of the sport.

“His questions are pretty high-level questions,” said Paul Menhart, pitching coach for the Desert Dogs and the Nationals’ Class A Potomac team. “It’s a joy to talk to him. He wants to learn so much so quickly. He’s a sponge. He wants it all, and he wants it now.”

When Strasburg returned to the mound five days later, it was immediately obvious he had made the necessary adjustments. Against the Surprise Rafters, he carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning.

Speaking later that afternoon about the lessons he learned from his previous start, Strasburg almost sounded happy to have endured that pounding.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I strongly feel that the games where you don’t pitch well are the best games you can learn from.”

Since then, Strasburg has been nothing short of dynamic. He tossed five innings of one-run ball the next week. Then after missing one start because of a mild neck strain, he returned last weekend to hold the Peoria Saguaros to one hit over 3 2/3 innings, striking out six.

And thanks to his Desert Dogs teammates, who clinched first place in the AFL’s East Division on Monday, Strasburg will get one more chance to pitch this month. He’s slated to start Saturday’s league championship game against the Javelinas, a contest that will be televised live by MLB Network at 2:30 p.m.

After that, Strasburg will head home to San Diego for an abbreviated offseason. He’ll work out on his own, marry his college sweetheart, Rachel, and then head to Florida for his first spring training camp.

The spotlight will shine even brighter on Strasburg in Viera, where major league hitters, teammates, coaches and media members await to scrutinize his every move. If his performance in Arizona the past month is evidence of things to come, he won’t be fazed one bit.

“He’s always going to be under the bright lights, but he just doesn’t get emotionally involved in anything but his pitching,” Cathcart said. “He’s getting a lot of stuff thrown at him, a lot of stuff for a 21-year-old. But you’d never know it. You’d never know if he was an undrafted free agent or the first pick in the draft. That’s what’s really impressive about him.”