PEORIA, Ariz. -- Nationals pitching prospect Sterling Sharp had entered the 2019 season hoping to build on a very strong 2018 campaign that saw the 2016 22nd-round pick reach Double-A for the first time. An oblique injury kept that from happening, putting him on the shelf for nearly three months.
His time in the Arizona Fall League, then, was focused on making up for lost innings more than anything else. Putting up good numbers would be a bonus, but it’s a bonus Sharp has reached. His five shutout innings in his start on Oct. 8 is the reason why he was named the AFL Pitcher of the Week for the week of Oct. 7-13.
“It means the world,” Sharp said of the honor. “I’m out here really trying to get some work in from having the injury this year. It means a lot. To be recognized out here, it’s just hard work paying off and getting my reps in.”
Outside of one start in which he gave up three earned runs over four innings on Oct. 1, Sharp has been extremely impressive as one of the Surprise Saguaros starters. He’s already laying claim to a second straight Pitcher of the Week Award by throwing another five scoreless innings on Monday, making it easy for him to forget the one relatively rough outing.
“That’s baseball,” Sharp said. “During the regular season, that’ll happen. Out here, I just have to trust my stuff, go the next time out and keep doing the same thing and the results will happen.”
The results have been extremely impressive, as the athletic 24-year-old right-hander hasn’t given up a run in any of his other four starts this fall. Over those 15 innings, the Nationals’ No. 13 prospect has allowed just six hits and seven walks while striking out 14. His 1.43 groundout-to-airout ratio across all five starts should come as no surprise. Sharp has thrown a ton of groundballs throughout his career, as evidenced by his 2.10 GO/AO rate. His ability to command his sinker and offspeed stuff so quickly after his injury while also having success has been nice to see, as has his success as he works and tinkers with his breaking stuff.
“The feel is a huge thing,” Sharp said. “The sinker for me is my go-to, sinker and changeup. Out here, it’s really been finding the feel for the slider. We’ve been messing with a cutter.’
More than anything, though, Sharp is pleased to feel like himself again on the mound after missing so much time. He’s looking forward to using his strong AFL performance as a springboard into 2020.
“Injury and health, it’s been feeling pretty good,” Sharp said. “I knew I could come out and pitch like this, it’s just a belief in myself. The way I feel has been a blessing.
“Just build off of this, have a good offseason, get stronger and come back healthy for Spring Training.”