Out in the Nationals Park bullpen this afternoon, Stephen Strasburg threw a side session in anticipation for his start Tuesday. Pitching coach Steve McCatty watched. Afterward, he reviewed a small mechanical matter. It was normal.
Last year, everything was not normal for Strasburg. One year ago today, Strasburg underwent Tommy John surgery in Los Angeles to repair the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He knew would not pitch in the majors again for at least one year. He is not quite back to normal, but he is back, three days and no more hurdles separating from starting for the Nationals in the major leagues.
“It seems like it’s been a year,” Strasburg said. “I didn’t really know how long it was going to feel like. I felt like it was going to take forever for the first five months when I wasn’t throwing. But when I started to get on the mound and face some hitters, it started to speed up.”
The Nationals will limit Strasburg to four or five innings and 60 pitches Tuesday night, the first of four or five starts. Otherwise, Manager Davey Johnson will treat Strasburg as a normal member of the rotation, giving him an extra day here and there if believes it to be prudent.
If Strasburg pitches on normal rest, which Johnson said is the plan, he will start Sept. 11 and Sept. 16, both home games. He would be on schedule to pitch Sept. 21 at the Phillies, and then Sept. 26 at the Marlins.
“I have no instructions on starting him at home,” Johnson said. “That would vary his rest in between. I may give him a time or two maybe an extra day if there’s days off in there, or I may flip-flop him if I think he needs an extra day so as to not get a tired arm. But it definitely wouldn’t be about being home or on the road.”
The first priority for Strasburg and the Nationals it to get him through this month healthy and re-acclimated to the major leagues. Most pitchers take time to regain the full effectiveness of their breaking and command, one reason to have them pitch at the end of a season and let them find the old feel of their pitches.
“I’m not going to put any expectations on myself,” Strasburg said. “I’m not going to out there and win a Cy Young in four starts. I’m just going to go out there and try to help this team win some ballgames.”
Strasburg said watching Jordan Zimmermann post a 3.18 ERA this season “gave me a lot of confidence.” Strasburg and Zimmermann, the bedrock of the Nationals’ future, will again miss each other in the rotation. Last year, Zimmermann returned from his own Tommy John surgery six days after Strasburg torn his UCL.
Next year, Strasburg and Zimmermann should finally form a 1-2 combination, albeit with restrictions. Strasburg will be on an innings limit, similar to the 160-inning cap Zimmermann pitched with this season. He made his final start Sunday in Cincinnati.
“Obviously, I’m going to be on a limit like he was this year,” Strasburg said. “For me, I’m looking a little bit further ahead to where we aren’t going to have the reins pulled on us where we’re out there 200 innings every year and helping this team get to the playoffs and hopefully win a World Series.”
For now, Strasburg will focus on Tuesday. It will be an event, like his debut last season, only not quite the same.
“It’s a little different,” Strasburg said. “I kind of know what to expect. I’m just going to go out there and do my thing. It’s something that I’ve extremely hard for. That was my goal this whole time, to get back out here and pitch in September. I’m glad I’m able to do it.”