[ed. note - "Every Friday morning throughout this season, hopefully, if they'll continue to have me, I'll be writing a post over at MASNSports.com's Nationals Buzz, "... as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest," writers to their site. All opinions expressed are my own... A sample follows... You can read the entire post HERE or through the link included below."]:
Davey Johnson's been talking about and pining for the "vintage Strasburg" he managed in the Beijing Olympics since the two of them reconnected as manager and pitcher in Washington, D.C. in 2011. When Strasburg returned to the mound in the majors following Tommy John surgery late that season, Johnson had taken over as the Nats manager following Jim Riggleman's departure. The then-68-year-old Johnson talked to reporters that September about the history the two shared and how Johnson and his U.S.A. baseball coaches had decided to add Strasburg to the '08 Olympic roster.
"He was the only amateur I had on the Olympic team," Johnson explained. "After talking to a lot of our scouts, we reviewed all the minor leaguers, and a lot of times the organization's protect their no. 1 draftees, even when they're in the first year. I know the Yankees wouldn't let me have [Phil] Hughes, he was in Tampa I think at the time, so I heard about [Strasburg] and his stuff and he was doing it under Tony Gwynn in San Diego, I said, 'Yeah, I can probably find a spot for him.' Then when I had him in the Olympics he started his first game against the Dutch, who I was very familiar with, all their hitters, he had that no hitter through six innings, I said, 'Holy moly.' I looked over at Marcel Lachemann, the pitching coach, and I said, 'He's got a no-hitter through six, we've got to pray he gives up a hit so I can hook him,' and he did give up a hit and we won that game 7-0. Now seeing him get to the big leagues in a very short time and now he's coming back and pitching again, for me, I'm excited."
Strasburg made two starts for the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing, beating the Dutch and then facing the Cuban national team in the Olympic semi-finals where he gave up 6 hits and 3 runs in 4.0 IP, striking out five without walking a single batter. The U.S. lost the second game, 10-2 to Cuba and Strasburg took the loss, which left him with a (1-1) record and a 2.45 ERA for the Olympics. Davey Johnson loved the pitcher he saw at that time, as he's mentioned repeatedly in the last few seasons.
Their shared history came up again earlier this summer when Johnson talked to reporters after a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in which Strasburg allowed five hits and three runs all in the first inning of a seven-inning outing in a 4-2 Nats' loss. "He's a perfectionist," Johnson said. "He sometimes gets upset when he doesn't execute his pitches. I think he's kind of -- I think with all the expectations [for] this ballclub, some guys have tried to dial it up a notch and be a little more fine and when they throw a breaking ball, snap it off the table, make it perfect, and he doesn't need to do that."
The Strasburg that Johnson saw that day, he explained, was a different pitcher than the one he managed with Team USA in the '08 Beijing Olympics, who relied more on command. After his 14 K MLB debut and the high strikeout totals he put up early in his career, Johnson said Strasburg changed his approach. "[He went] away from contact," Johnson explained, "But when he gets back to attacking hitters and going right after them with good location, he's nasty. But his stuff was always pretty consistent. It's just his command when he tries to do too much...
• Read the entire post over at MASNSports.com's Nationals Buzz HERE.
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