Strasburg in command in third pro start
Nats phenom allows just one hit in five innings, fans six
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The morning start time didn't faze Stephen Strasburg. It also didn't tame his fastball.
That was clear when his first pitch, at 10:31 a.m. ET on Wednesday, popped catcher Sean Rooney's mitt at 98 mph. The echo around Metro Bank Park woke up the 4,000-plus in attendance, and it certainly set the tone for Strasburg's dazzling third professional start for Double-A Harrisburg.
The 21-year-old prized prospect allowed one hit in five shutout innings, walking one and striking out six to earn his second win -- a 3-0 Senators victory over Reading. He threw 68 pitches (48 for strikes) and has now given up only one earned run in 12 1/3 innings this season.
"I definitely had better command of my pitches," Strasburg said. "Sean Rooney called a great game. We were definitely working both sides of the plate. We were able to keep the hitters honest for most of the game."
Through some intermittent misty rain and cool morning conditions, Strasburg -- the No. 1 overall pick in last year's First-Year Player Draft -- didn't show many signs of struggle. His fastball never reached into triple digits, but it was close enough, and he offset it with a 79-mph curveball and an 88-mph changeup that kept Reading's hitters uncomfortable.
After his first pitch clocked in at 98 mph, all 10 of his pitches in the first inning were 95 mph or above. He retired the side in order, with seven of the 10 pitches going for strikes.
"Out of the three starts, I think today, Stephen's command was much better," Senators manager Randy Knorr said. "I think that's what he's waiting for, he's looking to do that. It's getting better and better for him."
In the second inning, Strasburg started mixing in some breaking balls. He retired the first seven batters he faced on only 25 pitches before surrendering a base hit to center field by Keoni De Renne.
It was the lone hit given up by the 6-foot-4 right-hander. Only one batter reached second base against him.
Strasburg left with Harrisburg ahead, 1-0.
So far, so very good
"I'm starting to feel the adrenaline and know what to expect when I go out there," Strasburg said. "I was able to harness it a little bit better today. I was able to maintain the mechanics that I wanted to."
In Strasburg's first start, he picked up a win against Altoona by throwing five innings, allowing four runs -- one earned -- on four hits while striking out eight. A rain-shortened second start on Friday limited his outing to only 2 1/3 innings.
The weather wasn't ideal on Wednesday, either, but Strasburg wasn't hindered. He threw 17 pitches at 97 mph or greater.
"You're not going to be pitching in 72 degrees without a cloud in the sky every day," said Strasburg, who pitched at San Diego State. "You've just got to overcome those obstacles."
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo attended Strasburg's outing and was impressed by what he saw, especially when Strasburg was in the stretch position on the mound, and in the batter's box. Rizzo also said Strasburg's changeup has come a long way since Spring Training.
"The few times he was in the stretch today, he was loading up much better on his back side and not losing any velocity," Rizzo said. "He is more 1.15 seconds to 1.25 seconds from the stretch, which is kind of a target area for us.
"His changeup is a plus pitch right now -- it's an out pitch. He could throw it for a strike. He is doing everything he needs to make himself Major League ready. Of course the poise, the stuff with the power is there."
Knorr said Strasburg was only supposed to throw five innings on Wednesday but may be allowed to go deeper into games from this point forward. Strasburg's next start will be on Monday at Reading.
Rizzo declined to say what's coming in the near future.
"He needs a little more consistency with the fastball," Rizzo said. "He elevated some fastballs today that were swung through on that level, but they may not be swung through on the Major League level. It would probably be taken for a ball. He is really getting the feel of the five-day rotation, which is probably [the biggest thing]."
But the Major League readiness is almost there, and Knorr knows Strasburg is not too far away.
"I think it's up to Stephen," Knorr said. "As soon as he gets his command and control of all of his pitches, and he feels right, he'll decide. He'll show it out there."
Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Bill Ladson contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.