Hagerstown, Md. was brimming over with anticipation by yesterday afternoon—and for good reason. The long-awaited return of the Nationals’ right-handed flame-thrower to professional baseball was finally about to happen. Stephen Strasburg was penciled in for the start against Greensboro.
The 2009 First-Year Player Draft’s No. 1 overall pick didn’t disappoint, either. Though he pitched just 1.2 innings and threw only 31 pitches, Strasburg tossed 25 of those for strikes. He had four strikeouts against the Grasshoppers. He also gave up three hits, including a solo home run to Greensboro catcher Jacob Realmuto.
The Suns would lose that first game of the doubleheader, 7-5, but the crowd of more than 6,000 at Municipal Stadium didn’t seem to mind. They hung on each of those 31 pitches, cheering for strikes and booing loudly at the umpiring crew when a ball was called.
The anxiousness of the crowd in Hagerstown was echoed by the pitching phenom, who admitted to having some butterflies before his start.
“I was super excited to get back out there. It’s been more than a year since I’ve gotten to go out there and pitch against another team,” Strasburg said in his post-game press conference yesterday. “As far as the jitters or the adrenaline or whatever you want to call it, it was definitely kicking in. It was something that the last time I experienced it was in my debut.”
Strasburg threw mostly fastballs yesterday, and said that he wanted to lay that down as the foundation for his approach on the mound. He hit as high as 97 on the radar gun and said that his pitching arm felt top-notch.
“I felt really strong out there. I think I’m right where I want to be, physically. The arm feels great. As far as the velocity and the command of my pitches, it was better than I thought it was going to be,” he said.
Strasburg is likely to make a few more rehabilitation starts within the Nationals’ Minor League system before potentially being called up in September to fill the spot in the rotation that will be vacated by Jordan Zimmermann after he hits his innings limit. Where Strasburg’s next start will take place has yet to be finalized, but regardless of the location, he’s excited about getting on the mound again.
“I know that I’m pitching in five days,” Strasburg said. “I don’t know where yet, but wherever it is, I’m looking forward to it.”