This was not the kind of Stephen Strasburg start anyone would tell his grandkids about. He churned through four innings. He was not especially dominant, but aside from a scattershot second inning, he wasn’t shaky, either. He forgot to back up a base once. Basically, he bided his time. “Kind of a work day,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “Nothing exciting.”
In five days, that will change. With his final spring tune-up behind him – a four-inning, three-run, three-strikeout yawner in a 6-2 loss to the Cardinals – Strasburg can turn his attention where he really wants it to be, on Wrigley Field on Thursday, the first opening day assignment of his career.
“I’m ready to get out of Florida, that’s for sure,” Strasburg said.
Strasburg ended his spring having yielded 11 earned runs in 23 2/3 innings on 23 hits and six walks, striking out 17. He had high moments, like his five scoreless innings against the Mets in his previous start. And he had low moments, like the two homers he allowed in four innings against the Braves.
Mostly, Strasburg relished not having to deal with a circus-like atmosphere or an elbow that needed rehabbing. He still grappled with overthrowing rather than pitching with precision, but he feels confident the spring has prepared him for his first full major league season.
“Bottom line is, I got my work in,” Strasburg said. “Got the innings in. Felt good some days. Felt a little off on others. All in all, I’m happy with it. I think I learned a lot. And it’s still a huge learning process. I think I have a much better idea what makes me successful, and I’m just going to try to build off that.”
The most striking thing about Strasburg’s spring was how easy he made it to forget he underwent Tommy John surgery 18 months ago. He bumped into the inconsistency many pitchers coming off ligament-replacement surgery confront, but his stamina and arm strength never wavered. The fitness of his right elbow turned into a given.
“Now that my arm’s in shape, the recovery time is a lot less,” Strasburg said. “That’s where I want to be, and that’s what I’m happy about. It does feel like a long time before you pitch, and it’s not like your arm’s still sore or whatever, and five days come up and you’re just feeling good again. I think I’m at the point where, shoot, by the day of the bullpen [session] I’m ready to go.”
Strasburg’s only real trouble today came in a 25-pitch second inning. But he had awkward play in the first, too. Jon Jay chopped a weak grounder down the first base line. Adam LaRoche made the play behind the bag, but when he turned to throw, Strasburg had just barely left the mound. By the time he arrived, Strasburg was too late to corral LaRoche’s high throw.
“For some reason, especially here, I’ve had a tough time really reading the ball coming off the bat that way,” Strasburg said. “I got kind of caught in no-man’s land before I realized it was a fair ball. At that point, I knew I had to hurry up there. I knew it was going to be bang-bang. It’s just something that I’ve got to learn from. Even if it is towards the wall, I still need to play it out. That’s something I just got to remember to do. It’s not a read play. It’s just, get over there when it gets hit to that side.”
In Chicago, Strasburg’s mother will watch him pitch in person for the first time since his debut in Washington. He hasn’t thought much about how he might spend the off day after the opener, which restaurant he’ll choose in a city he’s never been to before. For now, he’s just focused on his first start that counts.
“It’s something that doesn’t happen to everybody, starting opening day in Wrigley,” Strasburg said. “It’s going to be fun no matter what.”