Stephen Strasburg has never experienced a typical spring training. He spent his first ducking constant, unwanted attention from packs of pen-wielding autograph hounds and from a stream of media requests. He spent his second recovering from Tommy John surgery, playing light catch while his teammates prepared for the season.
Strasburg appeared at the Nationals’ spring training complex today delighted to begin his third spring training as, to use his phrase, “just another donkey.” No longer the biggest curiosity in all of spring training or a rehabbing case, Strasburg is simply another starting pitcher readying for the long season, albeit one expected to carry a starting rotation and limited to roughly 160 innings.
“The one thing that I really benefited from in college was that they treated me just like I was another donkey,” Strasburg said. “That’s what they told me, you’re just another donkey. That’s what I want to be here. I don’t want the special treatment. I want to go out there and when they tell me to go out there and pitch, I’m going to pitch and give it everything I have. When they tell me I’m done, I’m going to be done. That’s the bottom line. I’m not going to expect anything. Everybody knows here that they’ve got to out and earn it.”
After the offseason, Strasburg feels even more confident about his reconstructed right elbow, which worked just fine as he made five mostly dominating starts last September. Any worry about how his arm will respond the violent pitching motion – “that little thing in the back of your head,” Strasburg said – has vanished.
“That was the biggest thing, just taking a little bit of time off, when you go out there and throw it feels so much more natural now than it did coming off the surgery,” Strasburg said. “Just, my mind’s a lot clearer. I just go out there and throw the baseball. I don’t think about, as much, mechanics or anything, I don’t feel myself holding back a little bit, I just let it go.
“It’s not so much that it didn’t feel natural. When you get into games, you’ve got adrenaline, you’re just rearing back and firing it. I think it’s more just on the mental side just not necessarily bracing for it but just kind of that little thing in the back of your head when you’re throwing the pitch: Is everything right? Now, there’s no second thoughts at all. It feels more natural now than it did coming right off of surgery.”
Strasburg went through a mostly usual offseason regimen. He mixed in more yoga to improve his flexibility. He has started throwing bullpen sessions already, and after those he noticed an improvement over throwing sessions done after his rehab last year.
“As far as being able to bounceback form the throwing and stuff, I definitely didn’t need as much treatment,” Strasburg said. “I was still doing all my shoulder stuff, elbow stuff, just to keep it in shape. But last year I was having to do a little bit more just to make sure I was ready. Like I said, it just feels like it almost never happened. That’s a good thing, but at the same time, I need to remember what I learned from that because it was a tough experience in my career, obviously. I just need to remember that you can’t take things for granted. You’ve got to keep working hard everyday, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
At some point this season, the Nationals plan on shutting Strasburg down, limiting him to roughly 160 innings, like they did for Jordan Zimmermann last year in his first full season after Tommy John surgery. Strasburg watched how Zimmermann handled that and took lessons from it.
“The one thing I learned from Jordan and what I’m going to try to incorporate is that I don’t expect myself and I don’t want to go out there and say, Oh, I know they’re going to take me out this inning because I’m only throwing this many innings this year,” Strasburg said. “I’m going to go out until they take the ball out of my hand. Whether it’s going complete game, pitching on three days rest, that’s something that I’m working hard to be able to do. Not saying I’m going to do it this year but that’s something that I’m working toward. At some point if that’s the situation then I’m not going to expect anything less. That’s what I expect to myself. I want to go out there and answer the bell every time out.”