Stephen Strasburg had floated the theory many times before. He always thought the nerve impingement that sent him to the disabled list in late July resulted from a breach in his routine perpetrated by his trip to the All-Star Game in Miami.
“Might have to rethink about if I’m going to actually pitch or not pitch in an All-Star Game, whether I’ll actually go all together,” Strasburg said at WinterFest Sunday. “That was the issue I felt like was the reason why I got hurt. I was on such a good program with the training staff and massage therapists — I was in this routine. Then all of a sudden you’re asked to throw, potentially pitch — maybe not — but not have any access or ability to really stick to your routine. Once that’s over, it’s like right back into it. Bullpen, day off, game. I just know that little lapse, for whatever reason, it pushed me back a bit. It started making my arm hurt.”
Strasburg held opposing hitters to a .211 batting average in the first half of the season, earning an all-star nod for the second straight year. He was selected to the 2016 All-Star Game in his hometown of San Diego, but chose not to pitch, though he made the trip. Last year, Strasburg made himself available for the game in Miami despite some reservations — though surrendering a spot might have allowed Gio Gonzalez to take the trip to his hometown. Strasburg did not pitch, in the end. He felt discomfort in his first start after the break, in which he allowed one run in seven innings to the Cincinnati Reds. He left his next start after two innings and landed on the disabled list shortly thereafter for what the team insisted were precautionary reasons — and ultimately seemed to be so.
“My arm felt good before that, then it was like after [the All-Star Game], it just didn’t feel right. I’m glad at that point I kind of tried to put my pride aside and say, hey, I want to be there in the end,” Strasburg said. “So we just had to get it right. No point in pushing through it. I’m glad it worked out that way.”
Strasburg returned to throw 35 consecutive scoreless innings and dominate in two playoff starts, most notably his seven scoreless innings in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. After spending the 2015 and 2016 seasons shuffling on and off the disabled list with a variety of injuries, Strasburg entered last offseason prioritizing longevity — as well as October. He inserted more long distance running into his offseason program, working on stamina rather than just raw strength, and intends to keep running on the beaches of San Diego all winter, as he did last year. He pitched from the stretch all season, something he says he intends to do again, in part because of its effects on his mechanics, in part because he believes hitters had a tougher time picking up pitches and timing when he did.
“I think physically, there was that little spot around the all-star game, but I’m glad with how I bounced back. I think I progressed a little bit in that department with how my body works and what I need to do,” Strasburg said. “I think it’s not satisfied by any means, but I think there’s more in the tank. So I’m excited. I was excited to get back to work as soon as the season was over, to keep trying to get better, keep getting stronger and get out there next season.”
The strange all-star experience could become a prominent narrative next summer, when the All-Star Game is at Nationals Park. Bryce Harper has said he will finally participate in the Home Run Derby there, in front of his home crowd. Strasburg and Max Scherzer, two of the three Cy Young finalists, will be the sentimental favorites to start the game.
While Strasburg indicated the need to reconsider future games, perhaps the proximity of the Nationals’ training staff and a better sense of the potential pitfalls will allow the team to participate next season. Either way, Strasburg felt the tweaks he made to his mechanics and routine succeeded in keeping healthy — and that the only reason he didn’t make it through the season unscathed was an optional trip to Miami he will not have to take next year.
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