Steve McCatty on Stephen Strasburg’s balks and awareness

September 10, 2013

(Scott Cunningham / Getty Images)

After Stephen Strasburg finished his start Sunday afternoon at Marlins Park, he and Steve McCatty shared a longer, and at times more animated, chat than usual. “That’s between me and him,” McCatty said. “There were a number of topics we discussed.” McCatty allowed Strasburg’s two balks were “a possibility of one being in there.”

Monday afternoon at Citi Field, McCatty remained miffed at Strasburg’s two balks in the span of four batters, both of which scored runs. Strasburg had just switched to pitching out of the wind-up with a man on third base, and he forgot to wait for Wilson Ramos to run through all of his signs before he reached into his glove. The flinching indecision led to both balks.

“It’s not just twice he’s done it,” McCatty said. “This is the third time. It’s been the same thing every time. All three were wind-ups and being anxious to pitch, seeing what you want to throw but forgetting or brain-locking on, ‘I got to let him finish the signs.’ And that’s what he did on all three occasions.”

McCatty prefers pitchers pitch from the stretch with a runner on third, but he was fine with Strasburg choosing to pitch from the wind-up, because Strasburg believes it makes his pitches better.

Strasburg clearly felt bad about the balks – he said he was “embarrassed” by them after his start. McCatty thought the strange second inning fell into a pattern for Strasburg. He sometimes becomes too focused on the batter and lets tertiary responsibilities slide.

“I wouldn’t say it’s lack of awareness,” McCatty said. “It’s letting the game speed up on you. Sometimes, it’s letting your emotions take control. You forget about something. I won’t always say it’s lack of awareness. He gets totally focused on the hitter. You can’t always just be worried about the hitter. You got to control the running game.”

McCatty did not absolve his ace, but he also pointed out a factor frequently overlooked. Strasburg had very little time in the minor leagues to practice controlling the running game and other subtleties. His fallback is to think about the hitter and only the hitter. With 73 major league starts under his belt, that’s not much of an excuse. But it could explain why he confronts self-inflicted problems outside of the pitcher-batter confrontation more than most.

“It’s unfortunate that it happens in the big leagues, but a lot of guys in the minor leagues, it happens to,” McCatty said. “We always say, well, he didn’t have a lot of time in the minor leagues. This is something that, should it happen here? No. Absolutely not. There’s no reason for it. I know how it happens, but it still doesn’t give a Get Out Of Jail Free card. You got to be aware. This isn’t just go out and pitch. You’ve got to have court awareness. It shouldn’t happen. It did.”

At the end of the day, it’s all nitpicking. Strasburg has a 2.96 ERA and 181 strikeouts in 170 innings this year. He may not always be perfect, but he’s one of the best pitchers in the league.

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.
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