"I'm right on schedule and I haven't had any setbacks so far, so I'm trying to keep it that way and get a little bit better every time out," Strasburg said. "I tried to treat it more like a normal game, throwing pitches I wanted to throw in certain counts. It felt better. I was able to throw some for strikes and throw some out of the zone to make them chase."
Strasburg needed 31 pitches to get through 1 2/3 innings Sunday at Class A Hagerstown, and it took only two more pitches to get through three frames in his second rehab outing since undergoing Tommy John surgery last September.
The Nationals said Strasburg would throw 50 pitches or three innings, and left-hander Evan Bronson took over for the fourth and picked up a win in the 1-0 game. Not even close to his pitch limit, Strasburg made his way to the bullpen mound down the first-base line, as all eyes shifted away from the Carolina League game.
Strasburg threw 17 pitches in the bullpen to bring his total to 50. He will make another rehab start Wednesday, but is unsure of where. Hagerstown or Triple-A Syracuse are the two likely options, with both teams at home.
"I don't want to go out there and throw six pitches to every batter so that I throw 50 pitches in three innings, that's not really efficient," Strasburg said. "If you're on a 100-pitch count, what are you going to go, five or six innings? The good starters go seven or eight innings every time."
Strasburg's fastball hit 99 mph once, his changeup was consistently 90 mph and his offspeed pitches were equally effective for strikes. The right-hander struck out five batters -- one looking -- and 26 of his 33 pitches were strikes. He struck out the leadoff hitter on four pitches in each of his three innings.
"They say the command is the last thing to come back after Tommy John, but that doesn't seem to be the case with him," said manager Matthew LeCroy, a former catcher. "He threw a couple fastballs up and made a mistake on a breaking ball for an infield single, but for the most part, he was down and his fastball had a lot of life."
Every ball put into play was weakly hit in the infield, and three Pelicans reached base on infield singles.
The closest thing to a ball hit out of the infield was Jared Hoying's popup out of play down the third-base line, and after another foul ball and called strike, Hoying became Strasburg's third strikeout victim.
"I know I'm going to be the pitcher I was [before surgery]," Strasburg said. "I strongly think all the work I put in is going to make me even better and it's only a matter of time. Today is just another step in the process, and in five days I'm going to do it all over again."