Washington Nationals fans woke up Thursday morning to some potentially disturbing news.
Stephen Strasburg was rocked in his third rehab start.
Pitching for Class-A Hagerstown, Strasburg failed to make it through two innings, giving up five earned runs. On a brighter note, he did throw 49 pitches, exceeding the 31 and 33 thrown in his first two starts.
This ugly pitching line, however, is not the disturbing news I was talking about. Pitchers struggle all the time in minor league rehab starts due to the fact that they are often not utilizing their full arsenals.
In the minors, Strasburg has basically been working on throwing strikes with his fastball; he has thrown very few breaking pitches.
Even minor league hitters, no matter how far from being major league prospects, will hit a fastball if they know it is coming.
The potentially disturbing development in the rehab of Stephen Strasburg is the Washington Nationals' continued insistence on bringing Strasburg back to the majors in September.
According to the Nationals plan, Strasburg will make three more rehab starts before being called up.
Should Stephen Strasburg pitch in the majors this season?
Will three more starts really make a difference? Will Stephen Strasburg be ready to do more than just focus on throwing fastballs for strikes and getting comfortable with his new mechanics after three more starts?
The answer, to me, is no.
It has now been over a year since Strasburg actually pitched to hitters, setting them up and thinking about pitch sequence, selection and location. He will not be any more ready to do those things, which are a necessity at the major league level, after three brief rehab outings.
What the Nationals stand to gain by using Strasburg in the majors this season is not clear. They are far from contention.
He is not going to be ready to pitch deep into games.
While Strasburg's arm may be fully healed, he has still not begun throwing all of his secondary pitches as much as he will need to against major league hitters.
The threat of a curveball or slider needs to be there for Strasburg to have any success. Those pitches make his fastball better. When he does not have them, even minor leaguers can touch him up as they did on Wednesday.
The Washington Nationals need to pump the brakes on Strasburg's return to the majors.
The fact that he is pitching at all this season should be enough of a prize. Stephen Strasburg does not need to come up to the majors to make four- or five-inning starts.
Strasburg has worked incredibly hard to get to the point he has reached in his rehab so quickly. It is easy to understand the Nationals' desire to keep Strasburg pitching into September after the end of the minor league season, but he does not look ready to face major league hitters.
Simply throwing hard—which is without a doubt a good sign—is not enough for Strasburg.
The Nationals will regret bringing Stephen Strasburg up if he is not at 100 percent.
Time in the majors at the end of the season might seem like a suitable reward for Stephen Strasburg, but what it would really be is a huge mistake.