HAGERSTOWN, Md. - Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg had another positive rehab start in Hagerstown, improving on last Wednesday's five-run outing, with six strikeouts, allowing just two singles and one earned run in three innings of work at Municipal Stadium.
Strasburg sat between 95 and 97 mph and topped out at 98 mph during his 60-pitch, 40-strike performance, notching six punchouts of the nine outs, two of those looking. He admitted that he still gets pumped up for every start and the adrenaline was sizzling from his first pitch. Now, he just has to find a way to get the belief back he felt when he was rolling last season.
"I am amped up for every game I pitch," Strasburg said. "In the past, being comfortable out there, trusting your stuff, just having the reps, you are able to go out there and let it happen.
"But right now, just not having as a many reps as I have had in past, (and) having such a long lay off ... I go out there and I try to force things a little bit too much. I am slowly starting to realize that. I just got to go out there and believe in what I have and execute."
Strasburg stressed last week that his breaking ball just wasn't feeling exact, and that was a good thing, because he knew how to fix it. Again on Monday, Strasburg felt his breaking stuff needed work, but he sees progress in his control of the pitch.
"That has been the thing I have been having a tough time with," Strasburg said. "It got better as the game went on. Once I just trusted the break instead of going out there and trying to throw the filthiest breaking ball ever. It is a feel pitch and it is the last thing that comes. I am going to keep working hard. The more times I throw it the better it is going to get."
Strasburg says the changeup has been there every start and that is encouraging. As he gets deeper into his rehab starts, he's starting to see "glimpses" of his breaking stuff working and that is also promising for his return to the Nationals.
"All of my other pitches are better than before, so I am just waiting on that one (breaking pitch)," Strasburg said.
He said he feels like he is getting closer to where he needs to be because the four inning, 60-pitch cap he was on Monday was a "piece of cake" and he feels like he could go five innings and 80 pitches with no problem.
It would seem the logical next step then would be Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs Saturday in a home game. Strasburg said he would welcome the higher competition and a better feel for what hitters at that level will try to do.
"It is different when guys are trying to ambush you on every pitch that comes close," Strasburg said. "Before in Harrisburg and then Syracuse last year, guys have a plan. So, I have a really learned how to set guys up. At this level, I don't even have a chance to set them up because they are already swinging."