Stephen Strasburg made a quick and unassuming appearance today at Petco Park, arriving early in the afternoon and throwing about 40 pitches in a bullpen session. The last thing he felt like doing was talking about his visit and his progress in recovering from Tommy John surgery, so he chatted briefly with some of the teammates he had not seen since spring training, and then, before they started preparing for tonight’s game against the Padres and reporters came into the clubhouse, he left.
Strasburg had come home to San Diego as the Nationals’ extended spring training complex in Viera, Fla. shut down for a week to prepare for the Gulf Coast League season. He is still going about his rehab and throwing program as laid out, but today the Nationals and pitching coach Steve McCatty their first look at him in more than two months.
“He looks exactly the same,” McCatty said. “Just like spring training. This is a long course. He’s throwing 50 percent, a little more than that. He’s got a ways to go. It was effortless. It was very good. Mechanics are really good. It was nice to watch.”
Strasburg warmed up in the Petco Park outfield, playing long toss. Before he stepped on the mound in the bullpen, Strasburg threw a few changeups, just playing catch. He still has yet to throw any curveballs. Once on the mound, he is still firing fastballs only, at a little more than half of his full effort.
McCatty had not watched Strasburg throw a pitch since last year, on the day Strasburg tore his ulnar collateral ligament. And McCatty was not surprised that, after a long layoff, Strasburg had precisely recaptured his pitching mechanics. McCatty’s explanation of Strasburg’s ability to repeat his delivery was somewhat long, but also insightful. Here it is:
“The idea is you want to repeat the mechanics you had before,” McCatty said. “You stay within yourself. When I say the hard part is the mental part, that’s the toughest thing. Because you feel good, but you’re throwing slower. So it’s always harder to repeat the exact mechanics you’re going to have when you’re letting it go as maximum velocity. That’s what you work on – the timing of it, the stride, the direction, the movement of the hands, all that kind of stuff.
“Can it happen? Sure it can. Mechanics change all the time. But Stephen is smart enough. He’s looked at enough videos of himself, I’m sure. When he says he’s going to be the best at doing this, he knows exactly what he did before. When he came up, he was always in-tune to what he was doing as far as his body. Livo’s kind of the same way – Livo knows exactly what he wants to do. Livo takes six months off, he knows that feeling.
“When you take time off from throwing, sure, at first it’s going to be a little bit different. That’s the process of just playing catch and getting used to it. He’s done a great job at that, because he’s very conscious of what he wants to do. This kid’s pretty special. He’s not just a guy that throws hard. He knows exactly what he wants to do. He could feel it last year when he was a little off a little bit. Guys tend to, when they throw really hard, they’re maximum effort. Stephen is not a maximum effort guy. He just repeats his mechanics. And he was very in-tune to what he did last year, and very good with it now.”
Strasburg had been working largely in isolation in Viera, with a few teammates passing through. If nothing else, his trip to the park today allowed him to be around teammates.
“I’m sure he’s happy to be around the guys,” McCatty said. “It was a good thing for him.
“He’s always in good spirits. This kid is mentally tough. The road was planned out for him last year, and he’s doing a good job of it. I told him, ‘If I was down there in Florida with him, there wouldn’t be any bass left in the pond.’ He said, ‘They’re already gone already.’ He’s mentally strong. He’s doing what he has to do. He wants to be the best as far as the rehab process goes. He looked great.”