Strasburg thinks added slider a partial cause of arm injury.
Expects to reduce use, frustrated to miss time
Sunday at Nationals Winterfest, Stephen Strasburg made the rounds with full facial hair and a presumably healed elbow.
His right elbow, a $175 million anchor in the Washington Nationals’ future, had bothered him last season. His forearm tightened with every slider he threw after the All-Star break. Eventually, a small tear in the pronator tendon developed, and everyone was scared when they saw Strasburg shake his arm and walk off the mound in the third inning Sept. 7.
Doctors had told him the pain in his arm would subside with rest, and the small tendon tear would heal.
“I’ve been full-go with my training,” Strasburg said. “Go treat it like a normal offseason now … I’m not at the point when I would start throwing.”
That comes after Christmas in early January. Strasburg said he will be on a mound prior to spring training. Before and after walking up to the rubber to start his throwing, he will be making changes.
One will be in his pitch selection during the coming season. Strasburg added an effective slider to his repertoire last season, a pitch that has had an odd life. At first, Strasburg was reticent to acknowledge its existence. Once he did, it was noted as a firm contributor to his success during a season in which he started 14-0. After the break, throwing it began to bother him. Strasburg thought he started
“coming around” the pitch and became “too big with it.” The slight mechanical shift was exacerbated by his affinity for the new slider. “I fell in love with it,” Strasburg said.
His forearm began to tighten an unusual amount following each start. Strasburg was placed on the disabled list Aug. 22 because of elbow soreness. He returned to the mound Sept. 7 before being removed after just 2 1/3 innings. That appearance against the Atlanta Braves was his final of the season, despite the Nationals reaching the playoffs, and one that caused concern.
Strasburg’s pain made him wonder if he had injured his ulnar collateral ligament for a second time. He had not. The Nationals made trainer Paul Lessard available to the media to say Strasburg’s “ligament is good.” Strasburg had a strained flexor mass and a partially torn pronator tendon.
Strasburg’s attempt to return in time for the postseason failed. His first target would have been the National League Championship Series. Washington manager Dusty Baker said midway through the National League Division Series that Strasburg would not be back in time for the NLCS, though Strasburg had hoped he could be set by then.
“At the latest, the World Series if we got there,” Strasburg said.
He felt “helpless” watching his team face a left-handed heavy lineup. Strasburg has reverse splits, making him the club’s most effective starting pitcher against left-handed hitters. They hit just .200 against Strasburg last season.
Strasburg will not be eliminating the slider, though he expects to reduce its use. He threw it 17.1 percent of the time last season after using it 0.5 percent of the time the season before, according to Fangraphs. Choosing the slider more often dropped his curveball usage by almost 10 percent.
“I think the biggest thing from last year, I had a new pitch and I probably abused it,” Strasburg said. “I need to go back to what I’ve thrown much longer. Not necessarily stop throwing it but don’t let it take place of the pitches my body’s been accustomed to for years.”
Strasburg’s offseason and in-betweenstarts work will also change, though he did not specify how. Last season. Strasburg mentioned that he needed to focus more on stretching than lifting. He met with the team’s medical staff last week to map out his offseason workouts, according to general manager Mike Rizzo.
In seven seasons, Strasburg has made 24 starts or fewer four times. In 2015, an ankle injury and “knot” in his upper back cause him to miss more than a month. An upper back strain caused by weightlifting sent him to the disabled list the first time in 2016. His body caused fervent debate early in his career when the Nationals shut him down following Tommy John surgery. It continues to deliver complications the last two seasons after a successful run the three seasons before.
By signing a seven-year, $175 million extension in May, Strasburg avoided free agency this offseason. He said the contract is not why he plays and cited his irritation with last season, yet another one influenced by injuries, as his motivation for next year.
“I was frustrated at the end of the year to not be there with the guys,” Strasburg said. “That’s kind of my big motivation going into this year. Just because you sign an extension doesn’t mean the work’s all done. I want to be there. I don’t want to miss any more time. I’m not saying that’s not going to happen. Sometimes, you’re going to get hurt and there’s nothing you can do about it. I’m going to continue to try try and figure out this puzzle and hopefully this next year I’ll have a better grasp on what I need to do to stay healthy.”
Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg said he will be on a mound prior to spring training. Before and after he starts his throwing, he will make changes. His forearm injury developed with a new slider.