Dressed in a black T-shirt and black shorts, Stephen Strasburg strode up the walkway leading from the Nationals’ spring training players’ complex to a practice field on Monday morning. He arrived from San Diego the day before, well-rested and rejuvenated from the first “normal” offseason of his career, his surgically-repaired right elbow no longer a concern.
He was relaxed, played catch with Drew Storen and chatted with teammates seated in the dugout. Strasburg, 24, heads into the season without restrictions, for the first time since his 2010 Tommy John surgery, and questions about his much-debated shutdown no longer the main topic of conversation. When speaking with reporters, he echoed sentiments he shared late last month in an interview from San Diego.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “It’s going to be a test. And I think I’m ready for it. I’ve trained really hard this offseason to hopefully answer the bell and throw 200-plus innings and be the guy in the rotation that can be reliable and go six, seven, eight, hopefully nine innings this year every time out.”
Strasburg, as he noted before, felt the Nationals and Manager Davey Johnson were quick to pull him from starts last season with the innings limit in mind. The right-hander said he was eager to show the Nationals that he is ready to be a workhorse in the rotation. “I want them to know I’m going to be 100 percent ready and if you want me to go out there for another inning, I’m your guy,” he said.
Since his shutdown, Strasburg has gradually come to grips with it, focusing more on the future than on the past. Coupled with the Nationals’ heartbreaking collapse in the first round of the playoffs which Strasburg had to watch from the bench, he said is “100 percent over it.”
“I’m moving on,” he said. “I’m excited to get into the season and see what we can do as far as a having a target on our back now. It should be a good test for all of us. I think the only time it came up when random people asked me and it was the number one question asked.” Strasburg joked that some people he meets — “people who aren’t as up to date” — believe he was injured last season and that was the reason for his shutdown last year.
Strasburg will throw his first bullpen session in Viera on Tuesday, the day pitchers and catcher report to spring training. Pitching coach Steve McCatty, who kept tabs on Strasburg’s training every month this offseason, will be there to watch. So far this offseason, the right-hander has throw six bullpen sessions, his body stronger than before and with specific areas of improvement in mind.
“Fastball command,” he said, when asked what aspects of his pitching he wanted to improve. “I mean, a little bit of everything. You can always get better in this game. So I definitely want to be able to throw my change-up a little bit less in certain counts and rely on my fastball more and rely on the sinker a little bit more. Like I said, so I can keep my pitch count down a little bit more and go deeper into ball games. Because it’s tough. There’s some games where there’s a lot of foul balls and a lot of swings and misses, and that’s just not really great when you’re trying to go deep.”