Stras­burg striv­ing for per­fec­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - Weather -

VIERA, FLA. uch harm can en­sue when a splin­tered bat goes buzzing to­ward a pitcher. So no one would have blamed Stephen Stras­burg on Tues­day night if he’d given wide berth to what came fly­ing his way. Call it, for lack of a bet­ter term, a Bar­rel of Some­thing Other Than Laughs.

Typ­i­cally, though, Stras­burg, the Washington Na­tion­als’ rock-star right-han­der, was too fo­cused on the task at hand — the slow grounder bounc­ing be­fore him — to worry much about an air­borne piece of lum­ber be­long­ing to the New York Mets’ Josh Thole. He did make the con­ces­sion of duck­ing, thereby avoid­ing ma­jor den­tal work, but oth­er­wise held his ground and made the play.

It was what he said af­ter­ward, though, that stuck with you: “I wasn’t go­ing to let the ball get by me. If I got smoked with the bat, it would suck, it would hurt, but I wasn’t go­ing to let the ball get by me.”

As you can see, Stras­burg takes this pitch­ing busi­ness fairly se­ri­ously. So se­ri­ously, it seems, that even self­p­reser­va­tion fin­ishes a dis­tant sec­ond to Get­ting the Bat­ter Out —

bat­ter, not just those whose Louisville Slug­gers are re­duced to kin­dling. The kid doesn’t want

to reach base. Ever. Steve Mccatty, the Nats’ sergeant of arms, is well aware of his pitcher’s per­fec­tion­ist streak. That’s why he’s al­ways re­mind­ing him that base­ball is “a game of fail­ure. If you let one mis­take bother you, you’ll make an­other one. It’s not about the last pitch, it’s about the next pitch.”

At 23, though, Stras­burg doesn’t ap­pear quite ready to ac­cept this . . . or to lower his lofty ex­pec­ta­tions. He treats even spring train­ing out­ings like “the World Se­ries,” Davey John­son says with amuse­ment. Try­ing to talk to him dur­ing games, ac­cord­ing to the man­ager, is “like talk­ing to a wall.” The young fire­baller is locked in, al­most to the point of pos­ses­sion.

Not that Stras­burg is alone in this re­gard. Other prodi­giously tal­ented pitch­ers, Mccatty says, Justin Ver­lan­der among them, think they’re go­ing to throw a no-hit­ter ev­ery time they take the hill. So when­ever a bat­ter gets the best of them, they bleed a lit­tle — and some­times a lot if the ball hap­pens to land in the bleach­ers. In those in­stances, the blood can gush in such tor­rents that a tourni-


quet has to be ap­plied.

Still, the Na­tion­als should be heart­ened that, just 19 months af­ter Tommy John surgery, Stras­burg is feel­ing in­vin­ci­ble again. His spring train­ing stats are noth­ing to brag about — an 0-3 record and 5.22 ERA in 142/ in­nings — but John­son likes what he sees, enough to name No. 37 the Open­ing Day starter.

It’s an un­usual sit­u­a­tion, to say the least. Stras­burg, af­ter all, is on an in­nings limit this sea­son — just as Jor­dan Zim­mer­mann, an­other mem­ber of the Tommy John club, was last year. So Stephen will pitch the first game in April, but isn’t likely to pitch any games in Septem­ber, when the Nats, if things fall right, could be bat­tling for a berth in the ex­panded play­offs.

But you can’t look at it that way, Mccatty says, be­cause “the games are as im­por­tant in the be­gin­ning as they are at the end. If you don’t win in April, you may not be in the race in Septem­ber. Be­sides, if you held him back, didn’t pitch him for the first month, what are you go­ing to do with him in the mean­time? Do you just not throw him at all? He’s

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