Strasburg’s roots in D.C. run deep with start on Opening Day.
Strasburg further rooted in D.C. baseball with start on Opening Day
Stephen Strasburg’s time in Washington has diluted his fame back home. For at least seven months a year, Strasburg is now rooted in the District. Add spring training and winter obligations, and that total runs more toward nine months. The commitment has undercut how recognizable he is back in San Diego, where he became famous for throwing his 98-mph fastball in college.
“Nobody knows who I am anymore back there,” Strasburg said. “That’s like my vacation.”
His investment in Washington baseball is vast and expanding. Monday, he will pitch out of the stretch on Opening Day as a bearded 28-year-old. He has been part of the organization since 2009 and is under contract until 2023. If he stays in Washington until then, Strasburg will put together the secondlongest tenure of any Washington player since baseball returned to the District in 2005. Only Ryan Zimmerman, who was drafted that year and is under contract until 2020, will be with the organization longer, and that’s just by a year.
Which means Strasburg is now entrenched in Washington baseball the way Bryce Harper may never be. Strasburg arrived as a phenom, became an All-Star and stayed. Harper is two seasons from free agency, a time that could establish a new record for contracts and possibly a second baseball home for him.
Before and after that, Strasburg is desperate to stay healthy. His past injury issues suggest someone has a voodoo doll stowed away somewhere in New Orleans or Flushing. Strasburg has injured his elbow, forearm, shoulder, ankle, back, lat and oblique. That’s why when he sat in front of cameras Friday at a press conference, Strasburg brought up September over and over. He just wants to make it there with whatever maximum health is possible at that point in the season.
“Those games in September, those are the ones that really stick out in your memory more,” Strasburg said.
To help get there, and not miss the postseason for a third time, Strasburg has decided to throw exclusively from the stretch this season. He thinks it helps him repeat his mechanics with greater ease. He wants to let his legs and long arms do more natural work, discarding any twist or prior step back.
He is also going to reduce the usage of his slider, which was unearthed last season, used often to great effect, then
targeted in the offseason in his mind as the possible reason for a small tear of his pronator tendon. That’s the injury that forced Strasburg to miss the end of the regular season and the playoffs. The missed time gnaws at him and makes manager Dusty Baker wonder what could have happened if Strasburg and All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos were not hurt late in the 2016 season.
Strasburg won his first 13 starts last season before the forearm trouble began around the All-Star break. He lost range of motion, had to be placed on the disabled list and feared at one point he had again torn his ulnar collateral ligament. He was relieved when learning he had not.
He felt good in the spring. Strasburg’s velocity was in line with the past despite last season’s injury and his decision to throw from the stretch, the latter of which he views as no big deal.
“It’s not like I’m trying to throw lefthanded or sidearm or anything,” Strasburg said. “You get this feeling when it’s right and you want to be able to repeat it as many times as you can.”
“I mean, until he’s not effective then you let him do it,” Baker said. “Stras is Stras. I mean, this, let’s not talk about him like he’s some rookie [in] his first time out there. No no, this is, he’s closing in on being a veteran now at a very young age. So we just have to let him pitch.”
As an ever-tinkering perfectionist, Strasburg is always grappling with letting go. He cannot control what happens after he releases the ball. He knows that. But that does not make it easier to accept.
“I think I deal with not being perfect a little bit better, but that’s always going to be a struggle for me,” Strasburg said.
During the rocket start last season, Strasburg appeared ready to pitch 200plus innings for just the second time in his career. Instead, he made 24 starts, just one more than the season prior and missed the postseason. His last five seasons have produced a 3.24 ERA and an average of 166 innings pitched. In three of those seasons, Washington has won the National League East. He’s pitched in the postseason once.
“The fact that we won the division three times, it’s a huge accomplishment for us in the short amount of time — it wasn’t too long ago that they were losing 100 games every year,” Strasburg said. “People on the outside might take that for granted, but for me, I understand how tough it is to not only get to the playoffs but to move on. As long as we put ourselves in a position to have a shot at it every year, it’s all about being hot at the right time and being healthy at the right time.”
So far, neither of those requirements have been met. He starts chasing them again Monday.
The Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg will pitch out of the stretch on Opening Day on Monday against the Miami Marlins.. Strasburg has been part of the organization since 2009 and is under contract until 2023. If he stays in Washington until then, Strasburg will put together the second-longest tenure of any Washington player since baseball returned to the District in 2005.