Stephen Strasburg’s regimen based on how ace’s elbow feels

Washington Nationals star Stephen Strasburg struck out four for Class A Hagerstown on Sunday in his first rehab start. (Drew Angerer/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals star Stephen Strasburg struck out four for Class A Hagerstown on Sunday in his first rehab start. (Drew Angerer/The Washington Times)
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CHICAGO — In his first game action in nearly a calendar year, Stephen Strasburg stood on the mound Sunday in Hagerstown and fired fastballs at 98 mph. Needless to say, whatever expectations there were for the Nationals’ ace, hitting 98 on the radar guns in his first rehab start after Tommy John surgery probably wasn’t one of them.

So in his second rehab start, the Nationals will maintain that stance: “I want him to feel healthy, for him to feel good,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said Tuesday. “That, to me is the most important thing for his mindset — that he goes out and he feels like Stephen.”

Strasburg will throw three innings and will be limited to 50 pitches with Single-A Potomac on Friday evening at Pfitzner Stadium. Sunday, when he reached his 30-pitch maximum, he was pulled from the game even though he’d only completed 1 2/3 innings. The same rules will apply in Potomac.

There are no quotas placed on Strasburg, who threw a successful side session in Washington on Tuesday morning. He is not expected to throw a certain number of breaking pitches or offspeed pitches. The goal is to maintain his health and pitch to the batters as he would normally. That doesn’t mean it would surprise anyone if the way he’d normally pitch to the batter would be with a 98-100 mph fastball.

“You can’t say, ‘Stephen, throw 90 or 80 percent or whatever,’ ” McCatty said. “Are you going to tell Secretariat not to run? He’s just unique. He is. He is what he is.”

“It’s like I said even last year, when they said ‘Did you expect that?’ when he struck out 14 the first time: I didn’t expect it, but I was not surprised by it. He’s not in the Hall of Fame yet, but the abilities and all that stuff, measuring something over a long haul, he is just about the most determined pitcher or athlete that I have ever been around.”

Strasburg has worked through his rehab from the Sept. 3, 2010 surgery with surgeon-like precision. The first-overall pick in the 2009 draft, Strasburg committed himself to getting through rehab in the same manner he did getting to the major leagues after just two months in the minors. The same way he committed himself to developing six-pack abs this offseason, working his once undefined physique into impeccable shape to win a bet with McCatty.

“Every pitch that he threw through rehab and playing catch had a purpose,” McCatty said. “I would say ‘Stephen, you’re just playing catch.’ He’d throw one high and he’d be mad, and I’d say, ‘Relax.’ He’d say: ‘No, I want everything to be the same.’ … Anything he sets his mind to doing, he wants to be the best.

“That’s what he told me when he was coming back: ‘I want to be the best guy that’s ever done rehab.’ Can’t say whether he is or not, but that’s his goal.

“I don’t think there are any surprises with him - especially if he does well. If he does bad, that’s just pitching. Everyone’s going to do that. I’m not surprised.”

If all goes well Friday, and in his bullpen session two days later, Strasburg will remain on a five-day rotation. He will only pitch for Nationals affiliates who are home, and there’s no reason to read into the level he’s pitching at, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. He could easily move from a higher level to a lower one because of the schedule with no bearing on the competition. At home, the Nationals can control the environment for Strasburg as he progresses from three innings and 50 pitches to four and 60 and, eventually, five and 80.

“I think it’ll be more business-like, now that he’s got [the first one] out of his sytem,” Rizzo said. “The important thing is, the day after, he felt great. After his side, he felt great. Those are all positives.

“It’s all been explained to him: ‘These [rehab starts] are just preparing you to get to the ultimate goal, and we have to do it the right way. Don’t worry if a guy gets a hit or a home run. It’s important to him, but it bears no relevance to me whatsoever.”

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