Why Strasburg will have a shutdown performance tonight

Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to pitch four innings and a maximum of 65 pitches tonight for Single-A Hagerstown Suns in his fourth rehab start.

Strasburg pitched at Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium on Wednesday and gave up five runs on 49 pitches in 1 2/3 innings. He said he liked his velocity but knew his breaking stuff wasn’t hitting the spots he intended. Strasburg said he understood the decision to keep his work down after a rough first inning.

“I didn’t want them to pull me out (in the second inning),” Strasburg said. “It was just one of those nights where I just didn’t have command of my pitches like I have had in the past. I wanted to go three innings no matter what, but the bigger picture, it is all about pitch counts right now. It is all about getting your work in. I am lucky enough to be in an organization that really takes good care of you. It was a learning experience and I have got some things to work on.”

That is why Strasburg is going to pitch very well tonight. After all, he knows what these hitters will try to do and has worked very hard in his side sessions this week with Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty. You would expect all that work with McCatty has fine-tuned his breaking pitches. He also will be primed to impress general manager Mike Rizzo, who manager Davey Johnson said will be in attendance.

I would expect it to be one of those “wow” performances, even of the shutout variety, similar to the way he got into a ridiculous groove in his 14-strikeout performance last June against Pittsburgh in his major league debut. He is healthy and ahead of schedule and wants to prove it to Nationals brass at the game.

That sets up a fifth rehab assignment Saturday with Single-A Potomac at Frederick or at Triple-A Syracuse against Rochester. Strasburg could pitch again Sept.1, when Harrisburg hosts Portland and Syracuse is on the road, or the Nationals could decide to add him to the roster without the benefit of a sixth rehab outing.

Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann is scheduled to pitch his second-to-last start Tuesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. That would mean Zimmermann’s final start of the season would be Sunday in Cincinnati against the Reds.

That would then open up a vacancy Sept. 2. The Nationals could give a spot start there or let Strasburg go. If they wait another start, Strasburg’s 30-day rehab window closes Sept. 6, so he could then start for the Nationals against the Dodgers.

Either way, I strongly believe Strasburg will take it to Hickory tonight, proving he is ready to advance.

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