Stephen Strasburg talked earlier this winter about falling in love with his slider in 2016, and the 28-year-old shared his thoughts on how he believed it eventually led to the partial pronator tear in his right arm that ended his season.
While he said he had no plans to eliminate the slider from his repertoire, he did say he might mix things up a bit more with his other offspeed offerings.
Strasburg, who signed a 7-year/$175M extension with Washington in May, started the season (13-0) in 17 starts for the Nationals, with a 2.58 ERA, 33 walks (2.59 BB/9), 138 Ks (10.83 K/9) and a .195/.258/.307 line against in 114 2⁄3 innings, then ran into all the injury issues.
He went (2-4) over his last seven outings, posting a 7.36 ERA, 11 walks (3.00 BB/9), 45 Ks (12.27 K/9) and a .287/.338/.515 line against over his final 33 innings of work, with a DL stint for elbow soreness in August and his final start on September 7th.
Strasburg described the two stretches as “polar opposites” when asked to evaluate his 2016 campaign.
“I guess [these are] the cards that I was dealt,” he said. “You had some highs and some lows and they were kind of all bunched together, so I’m just going to take what I did in the first half when I was healthy and the biggest thing is do everything I can to make the adjustments to stay healthy for the whole season next year.”
Dusty Baker told reporters at the Winter Meetings that they hadn’t discussed treating the right-hander any differently in 2017.
“No, I thought we handled him pretty good this year,” Baker said. “Just some things happened.
“We'll see how he is. If there's anything I'm curious about, it's about how he is going into Spring Training. We have to see how he is, first, before we assess how we'll handle him. I'm hoping that it's all subsided. He's in the process of still learning himself and learning his body.”
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters in mid-December that they planned to discuss things with Strasburg when everyone gathered for Winterfest.
“We’re going to sit down with him and discuss it,” Rizzo said. “He was here early before the Winterfest to go over with all our medical people, first of all we checked him out, second of all with our strength and conditioning guys on how we’re going to handle him this offseason in preparation for Spring Training and then through Spring Training we’ll devise a workout program for him to handle the forearm soreness.”
Pitching coach Mike Maddux talked about getting to know Strasburg over their first season together, and discussed how they might approach things differently in 2017.
“We’ve had one year together. A lot of learning goes on in that year,” Maddux said.
“The start of the year, [Stephen] is running the table, good gracious, he was [13-0], we just stay out of the way. That’s kind of what we did. Stay out of the way.”
But when things started to go wrong, he offered suggestions.
“You see some things,” Maddux explained, “and then when it takes a turn the other way, now you address some things or just talk about them and say, ‘Hey, maybe we need to tweak our work a little bit.’ It’s his idea. So that’s what we’re going to do this year. Same things, Spring Training same way, but once we start the season we’ll maybe do a little different throwing program, save more bullets for every fifth day. It’s going to be his decision, we’ll do what works for him, but at the beginning of last year we stayed right on track with what we were doing because why wouldn’t you? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but then it broke, so let’s tweak it a little bit.”
Strasburg, who said he would start throwing late in December or early January, told reporters he thought he’d be good to go for Spring Training.
“I’m assuming it’s healed,” he said. “That’s kind of what the doctors told me — that it’s just a matter of time. I’ve been full-go with my training. They said just go treat it like a normal offseason now and I’m just not at the point where I’ve started throwing yet.”
He continued to throw bullpen sessions and build arm strength late last season, though he did not make it back and would not have been available even if the Nationals made it to the NLCS.
The work he did, however, helped him get past the injury.
“That’s long gone to be honest,” he explained. “I think I’ve just kind of changed my program a little bit and I’m really emphasizing getting my forearm stronger.
“I did stuff like that in the past, but it wasn’t like as much as I’m doing now. When you get older and you’ve had Tommy John, you’ve got to tweak it a little bit because the muscles in your arm are going to maybe change a little bit, so I’ve just got to put more of an emphasis on slowing everything down and really getting the most out of the exercises.”