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Strasburg impresses in AFL outing

Strasburg impresses in AFL outing

PHOENIX -- It might have been daybreak for the dawning of the Stephen Strasburg Era. The setting was still the relatively laid-back Arizona Fall League, but Strasburg on Tuesday showed off the right arm that made him the top pick in June's First-Year Player Draft.

Strasburg got plenty of zeros from the Washington Nationals, who signed him for a four-year, $15.1 million package, and on Tuesday he got a couple of more: Scouts clocked two of his first-inning fastballs at 100 mph.

In comfortably his best of three professional starts, Strasburg held Surprise to one hit for 4 1/3 innings -- a leadoff double in the fifth by Mike Moustakas -- to pick up his second win in the Phoenix Desert Dogs' 7-6 victory over the Rafters at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

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"I just wanted to pound the strike zone, and let my pitches work," said Strasburg, who worked in more of the changeups he is trying to perfect. "In the first, I let a couple of them spike [dive out of the zone], then I started to get some swings-and-misses on them."

Strasburg pitched hitless ball through four. Following Moustakas' sharp blow up the right-center alley, he claimed Doug Hogan as his fifth strikeout victim and then departed with a 4-0 lead, having thrown 67 pitches.

Marcus Lemon's two-out triple off reliever Josh Wilkie plated Mustakas to spoil Strasburg's scoreless line, but nothing could dim the luster of his turnaround performance.

Five days after being hit hard and often by Peoria, Strasburg was nearly perfect against the Rafters. He issued two walks in a three-batter sequence between the end of the first and beginning of the second, then the Moustakas double, but allowed no other baserunners.

"The one thing I learned as a closer [his initial collegiate role] is that a pitcher needs a short-term memory. I felt comfortable last time, too, just wasn't locating my pitches," said Strasburg, gradually adjusting to something he never had to do at San Diego State -- pitch on four days' rest. "I've begun to establish a routine, figuring things out.

"I did a lot of running last time [between his first and second starts], and this time, I eased up to put my body in the best possible position to pitch."

His body and arm were sharp Tuesday. He struck out five -- two called and three swinging -- while throwing 43 of his 67 pitches for strikes.

Perhaps most encouragingly, as he goes about rebuilding the stamina in his valuable right arm, his last complete inning was his sharpest. In the fourth, Strasburg delivered nine of his 12 pitches across the plate.

A two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth by Corey Brown opened up a four-run lead for Strasburg, who would have had even more breathing room if not for Tyler Henley, the Surprise left fielder who made the best catch you will never see on ESPN's Web Gems to end the second.

The Dogs had already scored twice and had another potential run on second with two outs when Sean Rooney ripped a liner to left-center, which Henley stalked and snared with a high and long dive that would've pleased Greg Louganis.

Even so, Strasburg had enough support to run his maiden pro record to 2-1, while lowering his ERA to 6.97 from 10.50 -- where it stood after he'd been torched for seven earned runs in 2 2/3 innings by Peoria on Thursday.

His overall AFL numbers still aren't imposing -- nothing like his 13-1 record and 1.32 ERA in his final year in the Mountain West Conference -- but it's the least of Strasburg's concerns.

"If people want to judge the pitcher I'll be one year, five years, 10 years down the road based on a couple of outings here, that's out of my control," he said. "I'm just here trying to improve my game in every way possible.

"This is a great situation to learn a lot about baseball, and I just want to soak it all in. I'm trying to learn whatever I can from every single player here, some of the top prospects in their organizations.

"I just want to have a fun time, and learn as much as I can."

Strasburg had fun Tuesday. And the Surprise Rafters, whose lineup included representatives of the Cardinals and the Mets of the National League, learned the Nationals' future ace can bring it.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Change for a Nickel. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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