“I thrive when I have a routine,” said Strasburg, one of the rare young players who prefers the endless repetitions of pro life with its promise of tiny improvement each day. You’re not a flat-liner if that graph always trends up.
“In college, [Coach] Tony Gwynn taught that what is important is to do the work properly. Not the results. The results will change. I want to know I’ve done everything to succeed. Once the game starts, just let it happen. Next day, decompress, analyze.
“My mom is super-driven. She graduated from high school at 16, went to work at 17. The day-in, day-out grind, I saw that in her. I wasn’t necessarily ‘pushed’ by my parents, but I was shown what it is to work hard.”
We’ll also meet a man, 23, who had a year of elbow rehabilitation to consider what kind of performer he wants to be now. And he’s decided. The “thrower” with 14 Ks is gone, unless such a night arrives by accident. Instead, a mature pitcher is trying to emerge, a student of the game, someone more like Justin Verlander or Roy Halladay than Nolan Ryan, the pitcher to whom Pudge Rodriguez compared him the first time he caught him.
Strasburg’s goals haven’t changed, just his methods. Those 14 Ks?
“I wanted to do that when I came up because that’s what I’d done in college,” he said. “Now it’s an out that I’m after. Fans want the K. But when it comes to longevity, and efficiency, you want less pitches.”
The sample is small, but using that theory last September, Strasburg’s whiffs fell from 12.2 per nine innings to 9.0, but his efficiency, which influences wins and losses far more, improved: ERA from 2.91 to 1.50, WHIP from 1.074 to 0.708 and strikeouts per walk from 5.41 to 12.0.
“Man on third, less than two outs: I need a punch-out right now,” Strasburg said. “But otherwise, I like one- or two-pitch outs . . . I love double plays. I haven’t gotten enough of them. I hope I’m overdue, and they are coming.”
Perhaps most nerve-racking, we will also meet a stubborn, confident athlete who understands his sport is full of experts who say that his career is already doomed by a delivery called an “inverted W” that will tear up his shoulder and make his career so short he will be recalled as a sad curiosity.