Stephen Strasburg’s fastball averaged 96 mph last night

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Stephen Strasburg was dominant last night in his first start since undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery almost exactly 12 months ago, shutting out the Dodgers for five innings.

Strasburg averaged 96.7 miles per hour on his four-seam fastball and 95.1 mph on his two-seam fastball, which is pretty amazing considering that Justin Verlander leads all big-league starters in average fastball velocity this season at 95.0 mph.

However, as hard as Strasburg was throwing last night it was actually slightly below his pre-surgery average of 97.3 mph. And that’s by design, as the former No. 1 pick told Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post:

I think I’ve come to the realization that I don’t have to throw 100 to get guys out. Fastball command, I think, is better than it was before. I think it’s just because I’m not trying to dial it up every time.

If the pitch isn’t well located, they’re still going to hit it. I’m still focused on commanding all the pitches, throwing strikes, climbing the ladder, working inside-outside. I’m really trying to be a pitcher out there. I’m not trying to go out there and light up the radar gun every time.

Of course, that’s easy to say when dialing things back a bit still involves throwing 96 miles per hour in your first big-league appearance in 12 months. And as Kilgore notes Strasburg topped out at 98.7 mph on an 0-2 fastball he blew past Aaron Miles.

Strasburg struck out four of the 17 batters he faced last night and also racked up 29 strikeouts in 20 innings while rehabbing in the minors. New ligaments and all, that’s one hell of an arm.

Report: Twins sign Erick Aybar to minor-league deal

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The Twins have reportedly signed free agent shortstop Erick Aybar to a minor-league deal, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reported Friday. FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman adds that the deal comes with a potential $1.25 million if Aybar reaches the majors, with additional incentives based on plate appearances. He’ll be able to opt out on March 27. The team has yet to confirm the signing.

Aybar, 34, is now four years removed from his career year in 2014. He’s been in a state of steady decline since then, slashing just .234/.300/.348 with seven home runs and 11 stolen bases over 370 plate appearances for the Padres in 2017. His poor performance wasn’t helped by a fractured left foot, either, which cost him almost six weeks on the disabled list.

Still, the Twins see something promising in the veteran infielder, and reportedly intend to use him as another utility option this spring. Per Neal, Aybar will join fellow backup infielders Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza and may even (temporarily) take over for Miguel Sano at third base if Sano isn’t able to shape up for the role by Opening Day.