Wire Taps: Washington Nationals' Stephen Strasburg's Focus Changes.

While noting that their deliveries were "completely different", when asked in a 3/19/10 interview with Sirius/XM MLB Network Radio's Kevin Kennedy and fill-in host, WGN Sports Central's Jim Memolo, for a comparison in the majors for what Stephen Strasburg would bring to the mound when Nats fans in the nation's capital finally got to see him throw, Strasburg's coach at San Diego State University, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, said he was reminded of former Braves' right-hander John Smoltz

"Overpowering fastball, he's got a really good slider, where Smoltzy threw his split, Strassy throws a change, and it's, you know in college it was kinda tough for him to throw his changeup, because his changeup was like 88, 89 and that's like most fastballs in college baseball, so he really didn't have to throw it that often, but there were a couple of times last year where he needed to throw it and he did, and he had a lot of success."

Strasburg had been tasked with working on his changeup throughout the developmental process with the Nats. When the then-21-year-old right-hander started throwing it more regularly in the Arizona Fall League, the Nats quickly learned what his SDSU Skipper already knew. Phoenix Desert Dogs' skipper Paul Menhart, a pitching coach in the Nats' organization with the High-A Potomac Nationals, told Washington Post writer Tracy Hamilton in a 10/16/09 article entitled, "Anticipation Heats Up as Strasburg Readies for Arizona Debut", that they'd discovered a new weapon:

"'A lot of people don't know about this but his change-up, I think, [it's] his second best pitch and he's rarely had to use it because he's got this 95 to 100 mph fastball. I've already told him and he knows that he's going to use that out here. He's stepped into a situation where these boys can hit. He's going to have to mix his pitches and he's not going to be able to just rely on the fastball.'"

After throwing it sparingly in the first few major league starts, Strasburg started to feature his change more prominently in the mix. Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore noted the change immediately, writing about the changes [no pun intended] he saw in Strasburg's approach on the mound in an article entitled, "Stephen Strasburg changes up", in which Mr. Kilgore wrote that in the Nats' system, just like in college, Strasburg, "...often avoided throwing [his change] in the minors - no matter how filthy, it was the only pitch most Class AAA batters had a chance at, since it wasn't humming in the high 90s."

DC GM Mike Rizzo pointed to the change yesterday afternoon when discussing the potential causes of Strasburg's tear of the Ulnar Collateral ligament in his right elbow, telling Sirius/XM's MLB Network Radio show "Inside Pitch" hosts former DC GM Jim Bowden and Casey Stern that, "...the changeup has been a part of his repertoire since college but wasn't used nearly as much in the college game,":

"...and he really perfected it this year and it was the main cause of the force on the ligament, in this particular pitch, that we think snapped the Ulnar Collateral. 

The Nationals believe, according to what they've been told by doctors who've examined Strasburg's elbow, that the injury was, as Mr. Rizzo put it yesterday in a teleconference to announce the findings of the MRI Arthrogram, an, "accute injury from a particular pitch", though Strasburg himself, asked in a press conference yesterday, told the gathered reporters, "...I don't know what the doctors think, but I think it might have been something that happened more over time."

Asked if there was anything about his changeup that might have led to the issues, "the way [he] holds or throws it," the 22-year-old right-hander resisted attempts to pinpoint the moment the injury occurred or whether the one particular pitch was the cause, telling reporters, "You can dig into that all you want,":

"You're looking at two changeups out of the hundreds of thousands of changeups that I've thrown, whether it's out in the outfield, in the bullpen, during a game. It could have been any pitch."

And it could have been any pitch. It was a change, however. Whether it was that pitch in particular or all the changes he threw and the pressure they put on his forearm and elbow that led to the injury there might be no way to know. What's important now is focusing on his recovery, Strasburg explains, rather than obsessing on the potential causes: 

" If I keep looking for an explanation, it's just going to eat at me. I've got to let it go. I've just got to move on and that's what I'm doing. Everything happens for a reason, and this is obviously a test for me. I've never had any shoulder or elbow surgery in my entire life. So it's going to be a new experience. I'm just going to embrace it..."

While Strasburg focuses on his recovery, it will up to the Nats to focus on the potential causes, and Mr. Rizzo promises he will:

"I think we're certainly looking into his repertoire, we will look into his pitch selection, the repetoire, and that type of thing, but you have a big physical player here, who throws hard, is a power pitcher, he's certainly going to be a power pitcher in the future."

Strasburg, according to Mr. Rizzo, has already turned a corner from "...being upset to being really focused," on the process of rehabbing and getting himself back up to the major league level. It's going to be a long year.

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