The Washington Nationals have been eyeing a September 6 return for Stephen Strasburg to the major leagues. The final hurdle he had to clear was a Thursday-night rehab start with Double-A Harrisburg. Strasburg made that start, and it went pretty well. From the game report:
Stephen Strasburg allowed one hit over six shutout innings Thursday night for Double-A Harrisburg in what was expected to be his final minor league rehab start before he returns to the Washington Nationals.
Featuring a fastball that hit 99 mph, the No. 1 pick from the 2009 draft left with Harrisburg leading Portland 9-0. He struck out four and threw 70 pitches, 53 for strikes.
Six innings. One hit. Three strikes for every ball. A fastball that reached near triple digits. And, according to various reports on Twitter, lots of offspeed pitches as well. If that sounds like Stephen Strasburg, that's because it's Stephen Strasburg, as if nothing ever happened.
Well, not exactly. He did stop at 70 pitches. Strasburg is still in the process of coming back from major surgery, so the stamina hasn't yet built up. But he has been throwing more and more every time. His pitch counts for his six minor-league rehab starts:
Strasburg's building up his arm, and as he's built up his arm, he hasn't lost anything in the way of stuff. His fastball is still getting up there, and his curve is still sharp (although not always as sharp as he wants it to be). About the only indication that Strasburg was ever hurt is that he's been coming out of games early, but he's been going deeper and deeper, and on Tuesday, facing the Dodgers, he should work deeper still.
It's expected that Strasburg will throw about 80 pitches next week. The time after that, perhaps 85 to 90. The time after that, he could exceed 90, and the time after that, he could very well reach 100. Strasburg's in line to make four or five starts with the Nationals before the season draws to a close, and by his final go, he could be completely back to what he was before the whole mess.
Which is kind of the point of giving him time. Some wonder whether it's worth it for the Nationals to bring Strasburg back to pitch in September, thereby pushing him and risking injury. But for the Nationals, not only is Strasburg good for attendance and buzz - using him gives him a chance to get stretched out and re-acquainted with the major league experience, a part of preparing for 2012.
All eyes will be on Strasburg next Tuesday, and for the rest of the season, but I don't think people will be curious so much as they'll be looking for Strasburg to confirm what they already figure: that he is just fine, and that the injury's behind him. Tommy John is more of an inconvenience than anything else these days, and from all indications so far, Strasburg has emerged just peaches. There's no reason to expect that to change as he moves from the minors to the majors.
Stephen Strasburg is finally back. That's good for the Nationals, it's good for baseball, and it's good for all of us. It's good for everybody, really, save for those who have to stand in front of him.