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

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

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

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.

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