The Nationals advertised Stephen Strasburg’s first two starts back from Tommy John surgery on the enormous video board at Nationals Park by placing a cut-out image of him, in mid-delivery, next the to the words, in huge block letters, “Strasburg Strikes Again.”
It was the exact kind of thing Strasburg is eager to move past. Though Strasburg has returned from the major leagues, he remains in the middle stages of completely overcoming the effects Tommy John surgery. He makes each start with a strict pitch count. Next year, the Nationals will limit him to a specific number of innings. Each start still attracts curiosity and attention.
“I’m happy that I was able to get back and pitch in the big leagues,” Strasburg said this afternoon at Citi Field. “Am I satisfied? No. I’m not going to be satisfied until we get where we want to get.”
Individually, that means reaching the point where each start ceases to be an event. Strasburg looks forward to the time when he will start for the Nationals every fifth day, without restrictions and without external attention. He wants to be just another pitcher.
“I just need to keep working to get into a routine to where it’s just auto-pilot,” Strasburg said. “Answer the bell every fifth day. Kind of just get into the monotony of it, not really focusing on, like, ‘Oh, here’s his next start, Strasburg strikes again’ or whatever. It’s a ton of starts that you get in the big leagues. It’s a long road. It’s a grind. That’s kind of what I’m looking forward to. It’s still kind of the whole atmosphere of like, all the hype and stuff when I’m pitching.”
Strasburg has noticed a difference in the amount of media attention on him now compared to last summer, when he filled stadiums across the National League, appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and found the Hall of Famer asking him for artifacts from his starts.
“I’m not worried about coming to the park and having cameras in my face,” Strasburg said. “That’s kind of nice. I can come here, talk to guys and settle down. I see familiar faces like [local beat reporters]. Last year, it was more like randoms coming in and wanting to get their shot, wanting to ask their questions. It was kind of overwhelming at times. It’s been fun [this year]. I’m used to it.”
Strasburg’s foremost aim at the moment remains building arm strength. Sunday, Manager Davey Johnson pulled Strasburg after just three innings and 57 pitches despite him allowing one run on three singles. Strasburg was frustrated, but he also understood. He also made the point that his innings now are more strenuous than the innings he pitched during his minor league rehab starts.
“It’s his call,” Strasburg said. “Did I want to go out there and pitch longer? Yes. But I trust him. He’s going to do what’s best for me. As far the amount of reps, I think he’s right. It was my second start facing big league hitters. As much as you do throwing facing the minor leaguers, it’s different. It’s a different stress on the body. It’s almost you build up against the minor leaguers, then you go back up to the big leagues, and it’s totally different. You kind of have to rebuild.”
Sunday, Johnson also noticed Strasburg’s fastball dip to 92 miles per hour in the second inning, well below his typical velocity. During the inning, pitching coach Steve McCatty had concerns about Strasburg’s condition and visited the mound. Strasburg told him he felt fine and remained in the game. In the third innings, his fastball rose back to 96 mph.
Today, Strasburg explained the drop in velocity as a mechanical issue, one that comes with coming back from Tommy John surgery. The recovery prevented Strasburg from pitching for months, and the consistent feel for his form has not yet returned in full.
“Mechanically, it’s off and on,” Strasburg said. “A lot of time if you don’t use your legs, you’re going to lose velo. I felt like I wasn’t using my legs. That’s going to happen.”