“When he struck out 14, he was overthrowing then. When he was blowin’ 100 miles an hour three starts ago [in spring training], the same thing. From the time I had him in Beijing [in the 2008 Olympics], I’ve told him: ‘Remember, what makes you so special is your command. You’re a pitcher.’
“Jim Palmer had the worst delivery of any human being alive. But he didn’t overthrow.”
And, despite arm problems, Palmer lasted 19 seasons.
Starsburg will play this out his way: same mechanics, same “reverse W,” same four wipeout pitches, all aimed at perfect spots, but executed with slightly less effort and more efficiency, as well as an incorporation of his own theories about what causes injuries, especially his own.
“Throwing a baseball is unorthodox,” Strasburg said. “If you start to change, you open up a can of worms and I think you’re more likely to get hurt.
“Your body knows inside how it should fire — in the right sequence for you. When you’re growing up, throw it hard. That’s your natural motion.
“The injuries come when you can’t repeat it, when your mechanics are off, especially when I fly off, fly open and get more rotational,” throwing around rather than over.
Perhaps what’s most interesting in a debate that outlasted the 20th century and may beat the 21st, too, is Strasburg’s studiousness. If his arm stays attached, he’s going to get progressively better because he’s a sponge.
Great starting pitchers are smart — some in general, but all when it’s about pitching. If you don’t love to live in a world of storm-surge detail and constant process — no “end” ever in sight — your ceiling is “pretty good.”
At 23, Ted Williams wanted to talk hitting, to everybody, all the time. That’s not a flaw in poet, pianist or pitcher either. The Nats don’t just like Strasburg personally, which he makes easy because he wants to earn every stripe and respects any goofy baseball tradition. They admire his “makeup,” which is far more important. He’s the right kind of obsessive-competitive.
There’s no room today for Strasburg’s thoughts on why he’ll use his old slide-step delivery less or which pitch sequences can make the game seem to “speed up” for a hitter until he’s paralyzed with data overload. What tickles him most is isolating one of his own weaknesses. He may have found one.
“When I’ve got guys on [base], I want to correct it with one pitch — ‘get a double play,’ squash it as fast as I can. That’s wrong,” he said. “If I’m ‘Get the ball and throw it,’ if I go ‘fire, fire, fire,’ the hitter doesn’t have time to think — and have doubts about ‘which pitch is next.’ I’ve made the game easier for him. It’s like he’s facing a pitching machine, not a pitcher. All of a sudden, they are ‘on’ my fastball because they aren’t thinking.
“If I speed up in a jam, I just speed up their bats.”
Teammate Jordan Zimmermann walks past and can’t resist needling,“Are you still talking?”
There is a lot on Strasburg’s mind and even more pouring out of his right hand. This year we truly start to meet him, even as he also meets himself, the evolving pitcher and man. It’s a long process. And may be quite a pleasure.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.