Steve McCatty and Davey Johnson have come to know the proper way to deal with Stephen Strasburg during games, and that it is to avoid him. Just stay out of his way. “It’s like trying to talk to that brick wall over there,” Johnson said.
Even during the spring, Nationals coaches have seen Strasburg’s intense competitive drive turn into self-punishment. He has never experienced spring training as a full-blown major leaguer, and McCatty said he has seen him treat the games like true competition, not just a tune-up for the season.
The Nationals are trying to temper Strasburg’s expectations of himself when they begin to verge on the unrealistic. They have always worried about the external expectations. Johnson has repeatedly said this spring that, in his opinion, Strasburg’s over-exertion to light up closely watched radar guns in his rookie year may have led to his Tommy John surgery.
“No matter what he does, he’s going to fight what you guys write,” McCatty said. “He’s never going to live up to what you guys expect. What we talk about all the time is him being what he is. Not what you guys think. Not what someone else thinks. But what he is.
“He is that perfectionist. If you let one failure set you back, there’s going to be more to follow. I tell everybody, every time you throw a pitch, once it’s out of your hand, you’ll never get it back. You can’t be focused on that one pitch, a pitch you might think the umpire didn’t call.”
In his first season, Strasburg dealt with more hype than perhaps any pitcher in recent memory. He is still working on controlling his competitive temper during on the mound, but he has learned how to cope with the outside attention.
“You definitely have to have a tunnel vision,” Strasburg said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on in the game. Do you erase it, or do you let it affect how you throw the next pitch? That’s one thing I try to tell myself every time out, is to focus on the next one.”
Even with the outside pressure, Strasburg can be his own harshest critic. “I don’t know if he expects to be hit,” McCatty said. “So when he gives up one, he gets mad.”
McCatty noticed a difference in Strasburg between his start last week and Tuesday night against the Mets. He stopped over-throwing his fastball and let it fly at an easy 96 miles per hour – “that’s his getting-it-over-the-plate, I guess,” McCatty said. Against the Braves in the previous start, he constantly tried to challenge hitters for the sport of it, and he allowed two home runs because of it.
McCatty waited to talk with Strasburg about it the next day. He knew that night, there would be no use.
“You’ve got to understand with him, if he gives up a hit or a homer, he’s not a happy camper,” McCatty said. “I got to deal with him. I pay for that.”
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL