Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, VA has kinda taken a beating this year in the press. The older facility has drainage problems in the outfield and has been the subject of endless speculation, mentioned as a possible reason why Bryce Harper skipped High-A and went straight from Hagerstown to Harrisburg.
How much of that is true is open for debate, but what is fact is that P-Nats owner Art Silber and a local politician, and Nats GM Mike Rizzo were all quoted by national media commenting on the condition of the stadium in stories about Harper's promotion.
But last night, none of that mattered. Before an overflow crowd of 8,600-plus (usual capacity 6,000), the old, much-maligned ballyard was the site of the most recent tour stop of "The Return of Stephen Strasburg." The grandstand and bleachers were filled beyond capacity, with folks lining up as early as 2:30 pm for the 5:00 pm gates to open. People were standing in aisles, ramps, and any other crevasse or corner they could fit into to see the spectacle.
And though the Ian Desmond bobblehead giveaway certainly had its appeal to some fans, most everyone came to see The Show.
As was the case in his first rehab start in Hagerstown, Strasburg was accompanied by more television cameras and still photographers than you could shake a stick at. That will most likely be the case as he continues his tour of the mid-Atlantic, stopping at each of the Nats minor league outposts as he makes his way back to the big leagues in D.C. But since he began his ascent last season at Double-A Harrisburg, this was the first opportunity for P-Nats fans to see him up close and in person.
Strasburg did not disappoint. In his first outing in Hagerstown, Strasburg was content in proving his health and throwing his fastball for strikes. He accomplished both of those goals with flying colors. Friday night, he started to pitch. He used his four-seam fastball, clocked on the stadium gun between 97 and 99 MPH, to set up his two-seamer and his breaking balls. Granted, once again he was pitching against Class-A hitters, but as in his first start, not a single one made contact with anything off-speed.
His final numbers were impressive. Strasburg cruised through three innings, allowing no runs and just two infield singles, striking out five. He did not walk a batter, and none of the pitches that drew contact made it to the outfield grass. He tossed 35 pitches, 28 for strikes. He even cleanly fielded a comebacker for the third out of the third inning, his final pitch of the night in the game.
Strasburg was so efficient in his three innings that when he was finished he went down to the bullpen with veteran Class-A catcher Brian Peacock and threw a simulated inning to reach his prescribed 50 pitches for the night.
At this point, Strasburg needs simply to build arm strength, pitching every fifth day for a handful of starts. The stuff is there: The devastating four-seam fastball, the ground ball inducing two-seamer, the slurve that right-handed batters go fishing for and the change-up that makes them corkscrew themselves into the batters box. They are all there.
The Nationals probably won't activate Strasburg any time before his 30-day minor league rehab stint ends, taking their time with him in a controlled atmosphere to gradually build up his arm strength, so when they do activate him the first week of September -- as long as everything goes according to plan -- he'll be strong enough to pitch six innings against Major League hitters.
That's when the real fun begins.