After Stephen Strasburg's final start of the year last September, a 3.0-inning outing against the Miami Marlins at home in D.C. in which he gave up six hits, three walks and five runs, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson told reporters he thought the pressure of a summer long build-up of the story of his impending shutdown had noticeably weighed on the 24-year-old pitcher. "To be honest," Johnson said, "I think he just was thinking too much about the decision that we're going to shut him down and he kind of wore it. Didn't like it. But that's the way it is." The next morning the then-69-year-old manager announced that Strasburg's season was over, one start earlier that expected.
Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo reiterated in a recent interview that the decision to end Strasburg's first full post-Tommy John surgery season early had been made eight months earlier. Rizzo also said the media missed the story last year. Strasburg had a great season, and the Nats took the next step in their evolution into a contender. In an interview with ESPN980's Thom Loverro which aired this afternoon, the Nats' '09 no.1 overall pick said all the media attention and conversation was a distraction, both for him and a distraction that kept people from concentrating on what the team was in the process of accomplishing.
"It was definitely, both sides to it," Strasburg told ESPN980's Mr. Loverro, "Early on I was pretty frustrated that I was getting shut down and I wasn't going to continue pitching. My arm felt great and I chose to think the entire year that they weren't going to do it and that I was going to keep pitching and hopefully be there and help the team get deep into the playoffs and hopefully win the World Series. And when the time actually came, it took a while to settle in and once it did I felt like it was even harder having to listen and see all the speculation and all the debate, like you said, about the shutdown, because we had a clubhouse full of guys that were still playing and had been competing and getting after it all year behind me and we were still playing for something."
"And regardless if I wasn't out there throwing any pitches," Strasburg continued, "I was there for those guys and I just felt like it was becoming such a distraction... but for the most part I thought we handled it pretty well and as strange as it may seem, I think we got just the right amount of playoff experience. We're still hungry and we definitely want to get back there this year and go even farther."
"So your plan is to pitch deep into October then isn't it?" Mr. Loverro asked.
"Absolutely," Strasburg said, "I kind of had a little bit of an idea of how my body feels when you get into October. Obviously I wasn't pitching for a month, but I know what my mental state will be like and I think I'm ready for it. I trained all offseason for it."
Are the Nationals as a team ready to take the next step? Are they being overhyped? "Only time is going to show if we're ready for it or not," Strasburg said. "The great thing is that I think this team is built to last and we just need to keep getting better individually and that's going to make us better as a whole. So, as far as comments of everybody thinking we think we're a lot better than what we are, well, I feel like we did a great job last year and I think that really set the tone for this year. We're just, every single guy in this clubhouse is the type of person that wants to be better than they were the last year."
Strasburg finished his third season in the majors at +4.3 fWAR with a (15-6) record, a 3.16 ERA, 2.82 FIP, 48 walks (2.71 BB/9) and 197 Ks (11.13 K/9) in 28 starts and 159.1 IP. The Nats' right-hander will make his first start of the Spring tomorrow afternoon (Saturday 2/23) in the Nationals' Grapefruit League opener against the New York Mets.
• Here's the lineup that will take the field behind Strasburg in the first game of the spring:
Tomorrow's #Nats lineup: Span 8, Lombardozzi 4, Harper 7, Moore 9, Tracy 5, Desmond 6, Marrero 3, Snyder 2, Owings DH. Strasburg 1.— Mark Zuckerman (@ZuckermanCSN) February 22, 2013
• Listen to the full Strasburg interview with ESPN 980's Thom Loverro in the ESPN 980 Audio Vault HERE.