HARRISBURG, Pa. — Stephen Strasburg allowed one hit over six shutout innings Thursday night for Double-A Harrisburg in what was expected to be his final minor league rehab start before he returns to the Washington Nationals.
Featuring a fastball that hit 99 mph, the No. 1 pick from the 2009 draft left with Harrisburg leading Portland 9-0. He struck out four and threw 70 pitches, 53 for strikes.
Dan Butler had the only hit off Strasburg, a leadoff double to left in the sixth. The right-hander helped himself with his glove on the next play, fielding a comebacker and catching Butler wandering too far off second to start a rundown for an out.
It was Strasburg’s sixth rehab appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow last September.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson has said Strasburg is scheduled to make his first 2011 start in the big leagues next Tuesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Johnson will have an in-depth account of Strasburg’s latest outing from a trusted source — Nationals catcher Ivan Rodriguez caught the pitcher in Harrisburg. Rodriguez himself is rehabbing from a right oblique strain which has sidelined him since early July.
“I’m sure he’ll want to give a firsthand report,” Johnson said in Atlanta before the Nationals’ game against the Braves. The Washington skipper expects to see both Rodriguez and Strasburg in D.C. on Friday.
Strasburg had fans buzzing last season after striking out 14 in his much-anticipated major league debut against Pittsburgh. He went 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 68 innings as a rookie.
Several Portland hitters did make solid contact off Strasburg, though right at the defense. Oscar Tejeda had one of the hardest-hit shots with an opposite-field fly to the right-field warning track caught by Leonard Davis in the fourth.
Otherwise, Strasburg got ahead consistently on hitters with his overpowering fastball and tricky off-speed pitch. He fell behind 2-0 twice, but retired both hitters.
Fans gave polite applause after Butler hustled into second for a double off Strasburg, then cheered louder after the pitcher fielded Mitch Dening’s hard bouncer up the middle and caught Butler between second and third.
Strasburg left to applause after the top of the sixth, several fans standing behind the first-base dugout. Tim Pahuta hit a three-run homer in the third before Stephen King added a grand slam in the fifth for Harrisburg.
Strasburg’s start aside, it’s already been a memorable week in Harrisburg, where the Senators clinched a playoff berth with a 2-1 Wednesday night over the Sea Dogs. A win Thursday or a loss by Richmond would clinch first place in the Eastern League’s Western Division.
Regardless, Strasburg was the star of Thursday night’s show. Fans snapped his picture as he trotted out to the bullpen for pregame warmups, and concessionaires hawked programs promoting the phenom from San Diego State.
Strasburg has pitched well overall in rehab, save for a rocky outing Aug. 18 at Class-A Hagerstown, when he gave five runs and four hits in 1 2-3 innings against Lexington.