On Monday night we caught up with Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals right-hander at heart of so much debate and attention last season because of his shutdown. In the offseason before his first unrestricted season in the major leagues, Strasburg has been keeping busy. He has golfed (and watched some, too), started throwing bullpen sessions, rested, built up his body strength and hosted his third annual charity 5K run to benefit his former university’s baseball program.
Over the winter, Strasburg, 24, watched as the Nationals bolstered their World Series hopes by trading for the leadoff hitter they long sought (Denard Span), added a power closer to the back of the bullpen (Rafael Soriano) and a veteran workhorse to the starting rotation (Dan Haren).
Strasburg is particularly interested in working alongside Haren, a fellow right-hander who, even as his velocity diminished slightly with age, was a highly effective pitcher. In essence, Haren, 32, can help Strasburg master the art of pitching.
“I think I can learn a lot from him, especially the way he pitches and his repertoire,” Strasburg said. “He definitely has nasty stuff. I know he throws that splitter, but I think I can really learn from how he uses his splitter because my change-up is more that type of pitch than a conventional change-up.”
Strasburg said his body is stronger and more mature, and his arm feels good. After Christmas, he started playing catch again. He threw his first bullpen session Friday and the second Monday, his close friend and college battery mate Erik Castro catching.
Castro, in the Houston Astros organization, and Strasburg meet at San Diego State for their workouts. Strasburg does his yoga in the morning, throws with Castro at noon and then does his conditioning. At the college, they run into other major leaguers, some Southern California natives, such as former teammate Xavier Nady, Adam Jones of the Orioles, and Aaron Harang or Brandon League of the Dogders.
Strasburg is excited for next season not just because of his own opportunities but because he understands that the rest of teammates and him are drive by the Nationals gut-wrenching loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. That heart break, Strasburg argued, may turn out to be a blessing.
“The biggest thing is that we’re not satisfied,” he said. “Strange as it may sound, I think we got the right amount of exposure to the playoffs. And it would be one thing if we ran through it and it came easy to us. Unfortunately it didn’t, and that’s only going to make us stronger in the long run.”