Stephen Strasburg walked to the mound this afternoon with a different outlook. With only two starts remaining before his opening day start in Chicago, Strasburg approached a lineup stuffed with Mets minor leaguers as if facing the Cubs. He would not be Working On Things this time.
“It’s definitely in the rehearsal stage,” Strasburg said. “But when you step on the rubber, it’s go time out there right now.”
With 11 days before he takes on Wrigley Field, Strasburg took another step forward in his penultimate spring start. Against a shoddy Mets lineup, Strasburg fired five scoreless innings, allowing five hits and a walk, hitting one batter and striking out five. He put multiple runners on base in three of five frames, but he wiggled out each time.
Strasburg spotted his fastball with more consistency, felt enhanced comfort with his curveball and threw his change-up with the movement he wanted. With one more tuneup remaining before the season starts, Strasburg would be fine with starting his year right now.
“I’m ready to go,” Strasburg said.
Even if the scoreboard stayed spotless, Strasburg’s day was not all easy. He threw only 46 of his 84 pitches for strikes, and he went to three-ball counts on many hitters. “He still doesn’t have his great command, but he stayed within himself,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s such a perfectionist, he tries to make the perfect pitch.”
Strasburg made his priority slowing down his delivery from the stretch, not rushing himself. He controlled his motion from the wind-up more today, but he gained plenty of experience from the stretch.
Strasburg allowed seven base runners in the first four innings, but he allowed none of them to score. In the third, he escaped a bases-loaded jam with a double play ball by Ike Davis. Three times, the Mets put a runner in scoring positions with less than one out, and Strasburg stranded them all.
“Being able to throw quality pitches in big situations, that’s what separates the elite pitchers from the average ones,” Strasburg said.
Said Johnson, “He gets in a jam, and he don’t want to give up nothing.”
When pitchers return from Tommy John surgery, it typically takes longest for them to recover a feel for their breaking ball. Further removed from the surgery now than during his comeback last fall, Strasburg has found a clear improvement.
“It’s definitely a lot sharper than last year,” Strasburg said. “The first time I started throwing breaking balls, it was hard just getting it to the catcher. I was spiking every one. I’m definitely not spiking it as much. The break is coming back. Now it’s really just fine-tuning.”