Finally healthy, Suns' Purke hurls gem

Nationals prospect strikes out eight over six one-hit innings

Matt Purke is averaging 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings this season. (Bill Setliff)

By Robert Emrich / Special to | June 28, 2013 8:24 PM ET

Beset by injury problems in college and at the start of his pro career, Matt Purke is healthy. Finally.

The Nationals' No. 9 prospect gave up one hit and struck out eight over a career-high six innings Friday night before Class A Hagerstown dropped a 3-2 decision to visiting Lexington.

Purke allowed a leadoff single to Terrance Gore in the top of the first. He did not walk a batter and retired his final eight batters, exiting after throwing 68 pitches.

"Really, the biggest thing was trying to get ahead of hitters with fastballs early in the count," Purke said. "I got ahead and I was able to put them away with the curveball. I threw a lot of sinkers tonight, got some early contact and got some quick outs. Guys made some great plays behind me, they really helped me out."

The Nationals' third-round pick in the 2011 Draft, Purke battled shoulder bursitis throughout his career at Texas Christian University. He underwent surgery and had scar tissue removed shortly after the Draft and was limited to a few starts in extended spring training in 2012 as the organization wanted to "make sure I was 100 percent healthy," Purke said.

The 22-year-old left-hander made his professional debut on May 29, allowing two runs on seven hits over four innings at Asheville. He notched his first win in his last start on Sunday, blanking Greenville on four hits over five frames and setting for Friday's coming-out party against the Legends.

"Basically, this is the first time I've been able to go out there and pitch completely on schedule since my freshman year of college," Purke said. "It's been a long time coming, I've been itching to get out there. It's one of those things that you have to accept and you have to work to not think about and let it not consume you.

"The last couple of years have been frustrating because I would be fine and then my bursitis would come back. Having the surgery and knowing that nothing was wrong with me and coming out in Spring Training and feeling better, it was a tough process, but it made me better and I'll be stronger for it."

Overall, the 6-foot-4 Texas native is 1-1 with a 2.48 and 41 strikeouts over 29 innings in six starts. South Atlantic League hitters are batting .229 against him.

Purke left with a 2-0 lead, but the Legends scored three times in the ninth against Derek Self. Mark Threlkeld tied it with a two-run homer, his second, and Royals' top prospect Bubba Starling drove in the go-ahead run two batters later with a sacrifice fly.

Shawn Pleffner went 2-for-3 with an RBI for the Suns.

Robert Emrich is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @RobertEmrich This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

View More