Every start and every trip back to the mound presents a test for Matt Purke.
Purke, a former third-round draftee and the No. 8 prospect in the Nationals' organization according to MLB.com, is making a strong comeback from a left shoulder procedure that slowed his development.
Purke needed surgery during the 2012 season to clean up some scar tissue and relieve a case of bursitis, and his recovery held him out of competitive action until May of 2013. But Purke thrived during the season, and he's continuing his road back with a strong stint in the Arizona Fall League.
Purke, named Pitcher of the Week earlier in the AFL campaign, threw four strong innings in Mesa's 9-4 victory over Surprise on Saturday, and he said he's learning a lot about himself in Arizona.
"It's definitely been a good learning experience to come out here and play baseball with a lot of good teammates and a lot of good competition," he said. "Everybody that's out there, they're the future for their organizations, so it's a good measuring stick for where you are at the end of the season."
Purke, a 6-foot-4 southpaw, made just three starts in 2012, and his recovery began in 2013 with Class A Hagerstown. Purke worked to a 1-1 record and a 2.48 ERA for Hagerstown, and after a promotion to Class A Potomac, he pitched to a 5-3 record and a 4.43 ERA against Carolina League hitters.
Purke, 23, was drafted in 2011 and has just 21 professional starts to his credit due to the injury. The youngster, who was drafted as a first-rounder by the Rangers in 2009 but didn't sign, said that he hasn't always had his best stuff this year, but he's pleased to be healthy and durable.
"I have been able to find my strength throughout the year," said Purke. "It's come and gone because it's been a slow two years for me with not a lot of innings. It's been there, but I've had times where I've been able to be back to where I was before surgery. It's been a good season for me to go out there and make all my starts, to be able to throw this long and still feel good and healthy. It's definitely a positive."
Purke said he hoped the Arizona Fall League would be an experience he could draw on for years to come, and he marveled at the skill of his teammates. C.J. Cron and Jett Bandy both drilled three-run homers in Saturday's victory, and Purke thinks he'll see these guys again at a higher level.
"Pretty much every guy on our team is really good," said Purke. "Everybody that's been on this team has shown greatness. I feel like we've got a really good team full of guys that are going to be in the big leagues soon. And they'll be making a difference. There's not one person that stands out above the rest. I think everybody on this team has a lot of talent and it's exciting to watch them play."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.