On Thursday, when Sterling Sharp and the rest of Class A Advanced Potomac's starters learned Nationals starter Jeremy Hellickson was making a rehab appearance with the club, they wondered whose spot the 31-year-old would take in the rotation.
Ten minutes later, they had their answer. Hellickson would pitch on Sharp's day. But in an effort to have him on the mound every five days, Sharp was sent to the Eastern League to keep him on schedule.
The right-handed Washington prospect turned in a stellar Double-A debut, allowing one hit and two walks while striking out five over seven innings as Harrisburg blanked Akron, 6-0, on Sunday afternoon at Canal Park.
Gameday box score
"I was excited," Sharp said. "I was just ready to prove to myself that I could pitch at this level and higher levels. So I was just excited that I had the chance to."
The 2016 22nd-round pick let the RubberDucks put the ball in play three times as he cruised through the first inning and fanned Indians No. 6 prospect Willi Castro, who became the first baserunner on a wild third strike. Catcher Matt Reistetter nailed Castro stealing and Sharp walked Connor Marabell before snagging a line drive off the bat of Mark Mathias to end the second.
"That was very important," the 22-year-old said of his clean first. "My first outing up here, I knew to attack and get quick outs and that would help me settle in."
Akron's lone hit off Sharp came in the third and it didn't even leave the infield. Sicnarf Loopstok rolled a slow grounder to third baseman Jake Noll, who didn't have a play after charging the ball. The Drury University product walked 25th-ranked Tyler Krieger on four pitches with two outs, then retired Joe Sever on a forceout.
Video: Senators' Sharp fans fifth hitter
The RubberDucks deployed six lefties in its lineup against Sharp, who likes to counter left-handed hitters with his sinker low and away.
"That's my bread and butter," he said. "It kind of played into my strengths. Through all of Minor League ball, that's what I've been telling myself, just pitch to my strengths."
The sinker was mixed with a changeup and Sharp also showed some of his slider. He was perfect over his final four innings and retired the final 13 batters. The Southfield, Michigan native realized he was in a groove when he set the side down in order in the fifth after the Senators put up a three-spot in the top half of the inning.
"It was that shutdown inning," Sharp said. "It was pretty quick. I landed a couple of sliders."
He threw 57 of 89 pitches for strikes and recorded 11 ground-ball outs.
"I always joke around with the guys, saying groundouts are my strikeouts," Sharp said. "I love seeing groundouts to the infield guys."
Debuts haven't always come easy for him. Last August, the righty surrendered seven runs -- six earned -- over six innings in his first start for Class A Advanced Potomac. He was back with the P-Nats to start this season, going 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 14 starts prior to his promotion.
Mere hours after the game, Sharp had cleared airport security and was waiting in the terminal for a flight to rejoin Potomac. Although his stay with the Senators was short-lived, he intends on pitching for Harrisburg again in the near future.
"Since I know that I can and proved that I can pitch at this level, I just have keep doing what got me promoted up here," he said. "Basically force their hands, keep pitching as well as I can, and let management take care of what they have to take care of after that.
"I've got that same motivation that I had to get here in the first place, knowing that I could pitch up here. Now, just do what I did up here, knowing that I did my job well while I was here and hopefully get that callup again pretty soon."
The 6-foot-4 170-pound hurler turned the ball over to Roman Mendez, who nailed down the Senators' fourth shutout of the season by allowing one hit over two frames.
Nationals No. 3 prospect Carter Kieboom lined a run-scoring double and Austin Davidson went 3-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored for Harrisburg.