SYRACUSE With one of its joints retooled, the California Cannon exploded off the mound at Alliance Bank Stadium last Saturday. Heralded hurler Stephen Strasburg hit 98 mph while pitching five perfect innings of baseball as the Syracuse Chiefs clipped the Rochester Red Wings, 4-3.
It has been a long year for 23-year-old Stephen Strasburg.
After signing a record $15.1 million contract with the Washington Nationals out of San Diego State in 2009, the California Cannon shot his way through the minor leagues in 2010, making six spectacular starts for Syracuse in which he posted an impressive 1.08 earned-run average.
After being called up to the big leagues in June, Strasburg went 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA in a dozen starts for the Nats.
But on Aug. 21, in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies, he felt a terrifying twinge in his right elbow. Strasburg had torn an ulnar collateral ligament which required Tommy John surgery and an estimated 12 to 18 months of rehabilitation. He went under the knife in early September.
Less than 11 months later, he has made four rehab starts, three in Single-A and one here Saturday in Triple-A and appears well on his way back to the bigs.
Last Saturday in front of more than 7,000 fans at ABS, Strasburg notched seven strikeouts, walked none, and gave up just two hits, one a seeing-eye grounder. He tossed 64 pitches, 47 for strikes.
Because he’s still honing his curve, the California Cannon mostly fired fastballs Saturday, 95 and 96 mph speedballs that must be seen to be believed. His two-seam sinker induced seven groundballs. And whenever he snapped off a curve, Red Wing batters either swung through the bender or watched helplessly as it spun by them for a called strike.
‘Roller coaster’ ride
While his coaches have always spoken highly of his stuff, his pitch selection and his work ethic, they’ve also praised Strasburg’s positive attitude. Has that optimism been tested during recovery from serious surgery?