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Strasburg shows he's ready in final rehab start

Strasburg shows he's ready in final rehab start

Strasburg shows he's ready in final rehab start
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Stephen Strasburg wore his high red socks up to his knees. His velocity on his fastball touched as high as 99 mph on the radar gun at Metro Bank Park, and he was perfect through the first four innings.

He should get the chance to do everything he did Thursday night for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators next week at Nationals Park in Washington. His pitching line of six scoreless innings, one hit, four strikeouts and no walks tells the story in what is expected to be his final rehab appearance before making his season debut Tuesday against the Dodgers.

Strasburg is ready.

"The work isn't done," he said. "I need to keep on grinding, finish the rest of the season strong, go into the offseason healthy and see what kind of pitcher I am in 2012. Still learning a lot out there, learning how to have the right routine to go out there and feel fresh every fifth day. I'm starting to realize that I don't need to go up there and dial it up every time to get guys out."

He didn't allow a hit until a leadoff double in the sixth, and the only other blemish came via a hit-by-pitch with two outs in the fifth. Of Strasburg's 70 pitches, 53 were strikes, and he never needed more than 16 to complete an inning.

It was his sixth rehab appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery Sept. 3, 2010 to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right pitching elbow. In his previous five Minor League appearances, Strasburg allowed eight earned runs over 14 1/3 innings, striking out 25 and walking just three after stops at Class A Potomac, Class A Hagerstown and Triple-A Syracuse. His Aug. 27 start for Syracuse yielded one earned run on two hits over five innings with seven strikeouts and no walks. He was perfect after five innings then.

"It felt like it was gonna take forever the first five, six months," Strasburg said. "Then once I started throwing more, once I started facing hitters, it started to speed up. I kind of got back in the normal swing of things, being healthy. By no means do I think I'm done. I still gotta go up there, keep working hard, doing everything that I've been doing to get to this point. And I'm gonna have to maintain that for the rest of my career."

Strasburg has not pitched in the big leagues since Aug. 21, 2010, in Philadelphia, where he allowed one earned run on two hits with six strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings. The first overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Strasburg made his Major League debut last season, going 5-3 with a 2.92 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 68 innings.

The necessity to run the most-prized prospect in the franchise's history out to the mound for a few September starts has been argued ad nauseam. Tommy John surgery typically entails a 12-to-18 month recovery period, and Strasburg is scheduled to return to the Majors one year and three days after he went under the knife. Even he knows the narrative is not complete.

"When you do get past the 18 months, you're still working, that's how its gonna be for a while," he said. "What I learned throughout this process I'm gonna keep for the rest of my career. Hopefully it's gonna keep me healthy for the rest of my career, as well."

Ivan Rodriguez has caught 11 of Strasburg's 12 career Major League starts, and the future Hall of Famer was behind the plate Thursday rehabbing a right oblique strain. Rodriguez finished 2-for-5 with a double, strikeout and two runs scored. He expects to return to Washington on Saturday and is hopeful he can catch Strasburg on Tuesday.

"So far, he's doing good, to me," Rodriguez said. "He's ready to go. As along as it's pain free, it's there."

The Major League-caliber battery was the reason a Senators- and Metro Bank Park-record 8,637 fans packed the yard, which and Strasburg also helped pitch the Senators (79-59) to an Eastern League Western Division championship in Thursday's 10-0 victory against the Portland Sea Dogs.

They were not dancing on the mound or chest-bumping teammates on the field after the victory. On this night, Strasburg pitched his team to a division championship under the lights on an island isolated from Pennsylvania's state capital.

It was the kind of moment the entire Nationals organization hopes will happen for years to come in the nation's capital.

Nate Mink is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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