Strasburg striving for perfection
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