Stras­burg thinks added slider a par­tial cause of arm in­jury.

Ex­pects to re­duce use, frus­trated to miss time

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TODD DYBAS

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.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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