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Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg continues rehab from surgery

Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg is expected to start throwing a baseball again in two or three weeks as he continues his recovery and rehab after elbow reconstruction surgery.
Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg is expected to start throwing a baseball again in two or three weeks as he continues his recovery and rehab after elbow reconstruction surgery. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/san Diego Union-tribune)

The workouts have helped Strasburg's legs and shoulders in particular. He generates his 100-mph velocity with abnormally thick legs, which are now stronger than ever. In college, he could squat 235 pounds for three sets of 15 repetitions. Now he squats 315 pounds for the same duration.

While not pitching, Strasburg realized he possessed a deficiency common among young pitchers. The muscles at the front of his right shoulder are exceptionally strong, but the muscles in the back, which help the arm decelerate during a pitch, are comparatively weak. When he was scratched from a start in late July, it was because he felt a tweak in those decelerating muscles.

No one is happy Strasburg will miss at least one year of competition. "It's not a blessing in disguise," McCatty said.

The recovery process, though, presents Strasburg an opportunity to strengthen his shoulder, something he would not have been afforded without Tommy John surgery. At 22, the work could prevent long-term harm to his rotator cuff or labrum, the most debilitating injury a pitcher can suffer.

Fighting the tedium

The importance and progress hardly detract from the tedium. His physical trainer sometimes has to restrain Strasburg in workouts to keep him from pushing his reconstructed elbow too hard. "It's the same every day," Strasburg said. "There are times when you're like, 'Come on, let's do something new.' "

Strasburg has found means to cull some joy from the monotony. On his flight to San Diego in September, he scrawled his feelings in a notebook. He planned to use the paper as a time capsule of sorts; he wanted to remember his emotions a year later. Instead, he turned the notebook into a journal. He keeps meticulous track of his workouts, his diet, his thoughts. When he flips back to November, he marvels at his progress.

"I'm really starting from scratch," Strasburg said. "I really see the progression."

In between workouts, Strasburg has also had more spare time in his first professional offseason. He received a letter from an 8-year-old in Mechanicsville, Va., who had also endured a debilitating arm injury. In sloppy handwriting, he told Strasburg he was praying for him and suggested he play video games to pass the time. Recalling the letter, Strasburg laughed.

Busy in his spare time

He's resisted video games. In an effort to work toward a degree, he took two public administration classes at San Diego State. SDSU, PA 460 and PA 497, a thesis course. He wrote his thesis on the effect new stadiums have on neighborhoods, focusing his research on Nationals Park. He poured through pored over facts and figures, including the hiring process of construction workers and the history of the Anacostia waterfront.

Strasburg has stayed busy since the fall semester concluded. He bought a house. He attends San Diego State basketball games. He told McCatty he visited Big Bear Mountain in California on a skiing and snowboarding trip. "Please, God, tell me you were not doing that," McCatty said. Strasburg assured him he had tagged along only to hang out with friends.

He also created the Stephen Strasburg 5K Fun Run & Walk, an event that drew more than 1,500 people to the San Diego State campus on Saturday. Strasburg was the emcee, ran the race, signed autographs and posed for pictures. All the proceeds went to the university's baseball team, which has felt the crunch of California state budget shortfalls. He wants to expand the event next year to include more charities and also involve the Nationals.

Throughout the event, during which he ran alongside family members and his Yorkshire Terrier, Bentley, Strasburg beamed. Close friends, after speaking with him, find him to be in high spirits. Faced with the most significant challenge of his career, he is in a good place.

Two distinct dates

Strasburg's rookie season can be distilled into two dates - his debut on June 8 and his injury on Aug. 21, the most hopeful day since baseball returned to Washington and the most angst-ridden. This winter, in Michigan, McCatty offers pitching lessons for young kids. They all want to talk about Strasburg's maiden performance.

"I remember the first game," McCatty said. "And I do remember that one pitch, that flinch."

Strasburg no longer dwells on the injury. He chases the feeling his best moments brought, sustained by the belief that only work and time separate him from feeling it once more.

"I focus on the times where I pitched really, really well," he said. "I try to remember what I was thinking.

"I just can't wait to go there and do it all over again."

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