Stephen Strasburg makes an impression, Ross Detwiler’s cutter cuts, Bryce Harper almost hits one over a pond

February 23, 2014

(Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

Today’s workout at Nationals spring training brought Round 2 of live batting practice. Here’s a rundown.

** Stephen Strasburg faced hitters for the first time this spring, chucking aspirin tablets at a group that included a trio of promising outfielders: Steven Souza, Michael Taylor and Brian Goodwin. Throwing to catcher Jose Lobaton, Strasburg focused on location and, out of roughly 35 pitches, mixed in four or five sliders.

Strasburg is working to add the slider to his fastball-curve-change-up repertoire. He believes it can help him throw inside to left-handed hitters. Manager Matt Williams said the pitches looked good, but that for now it remains an experiment.

“I think he’s working on it with intent,” Williams said. “He’s not just saying, ‘Well, I want to throw this pitch, and I’m just going to throw it.’ He’s getting a sense of what it looks like to the hitter and how they react to it. He didn’t throw very many of them, but I thought it was a good pitch.

“He’s feeling it right now. For me, I don’t think he’s said, ‘I’m going to throw this pitch this year.’ I think he’s trying to get a sense of what it would do for his repertoire here. And he’ll do it in the games for spring training. I think he’s just trying to feel it, see what it would potentially do for him. Does he add it to his arsenal for his first start? Who knows?”

From the batter’s box, especially for a hitter with no major league experience, all of Strasburg’s pitches were menacing.

“It’s different than watching it from the couch, I’ll tell you that,” Goodwin said. “It’s just electric stuff, man. It’s not only major league pitching. It’s phenomenal major league pitching. It’s a little bit different, but it was exciting at the same time.”

For Souza, the way Strasburg approached his practice session was the biggest takeaway.

“He’s a man of his craft,” Souza said. “He goes about his business the right way. It’s cool to watch, just going live BP, how much he’s focused on a little thing that means nothing in the big scheme of things.

“He threw a pitch, and it looked fine to me. Maybe it came off his fingers wrong, or the spin was wrong or something. He called for the ball, and he wanted to get it corrected. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game – he could throw 20 pitches and no one would say anything. That fact that he’s always trying to get better, for me, especially as a young kid, that’s awesome to see.”

** Lefty Ross Detwiler also faced hitters for the first time and continued to work on his cutter, a new pitch that he added this winter. He said he is starting to get a better feel for the pitch. Afterward, hitting coach Rick Schu complimented Detwiler on one particularly strong cutter.

“It just opens up both sides of the plate for him,” Williams said. “If I can eliminate him coming into me as a right-handed hitter, I can have more success. But if he can throw that cutter in there, then he’s equally effective on both sides. It makes it harder for a hitter to square a ball up and feel comfortable.”

** After live batting practice ended, hitters took plain old batting practice off coaches. Williams himself stepped behind an L screen and lobbed pitches to a group that included Bryce Harper. It gave him a new perspective on Harper’s swing. “It’s pretty powerful, isn’t it?” Williams said. “Did you see the ball he almost hit over the pond?”

** The Nationals are discussing their spring rotation but have not made a final decision, Williams said. He wants to wait until after the Nationals’ live batting practice sessions Tuesday. The Nationals will open their Grapefruit League schedule on Friday against the Mets.

** Tyler Clippard is scheduled to throw a bullpen session tomorrow. He hasn’t thrown off a mound in several days because of minor back tightness. Ryan Mattheus has also been shut down with a chest injury, according to a MASN report.

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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