WASHINGTON, D.C.: Dusty Baker told Sirius/XM MLB Network Radio hosts Casey Stern and Cliff Floyd last month that he thought Stephen Strasburg’s stint on the Disabled List in late-July/mid-August was at least in part responsible for the right-hander’s strong second half of the 2017 campaign.
Strasburg missed close to a month on the Disabled list with a nerve impingement in his right elbow, but he returned to finish out the regular season strong, with numbers that earned him the NL Pitcher of the Month award for September.
“I think the major difference is when [GM Mike] Rizzo kind of mandated that Stras needed to be shut down when he was trying to work through what it was,” Baker explained.
“I think that helped him tremendously. It gave him time to just work on his body, not worry about pitching, train more, and just get everything together.”
Strasburg went (4-0) in five starts in September, putting up a 0.83 ERA, a 1.54 FIP, seven walks (1.93 BB/9), 40 Ks (11.02 K/9) and a .167/.228/.184 line against in 32 2⁄3 IP over his final outings of the season.
In a pre-start press conference on Thursday afternoon, as he prepared for his Game 1 outing in the NLDS, Strasburg too credited the decision to rest in July/August with his ability to finish strong and set himself up for his second career postseason outing.
“I think I really just tried to listen to my body,” Strasburg said, when asked what he did this season to stay mostly healthy and make sure he was on the mound in October.
“Something just wasn’t right there after the All-Star Break,” he explained.
“And I think we were definitely conservative with it, I think it’s something that I could have pitched through, but looking back on it now, I really just made that decision with the training staff because my ultimate goal was to be there at the end.
“And I was able to accomplish that, and obviously my body is feeling much better than it did. That's a positive. So you know, I just look back on that as a learning experience in itself, and to not necessarily go out there and think like small picture, like next start; but big picture.
“I think this team has the ability to do a lot of really good things in the playoffs here, and I just want to be a part of it.”
After missing time, and two of the Nationals’ three postseason appearances in the last five years with a variety of injury concerns and issues, Strasburg said he looked at how things were going and took what he could from his past struggles so he could learn from it all and move forward.
“I think from day one, there [were] pretty high expectations,” the ‘09 No. 1 overall pick said.
“I think you just have to do a little bit of soul searching, look yourself in the mirror, and when things don't go well, learn from it. But the biggest thing is keep moving forward and trusting the process.
“As a pitcher, I like to take pride in that; the effort I put out there in each start and the amount of pitches that I execute. I think that's something that's really helped me is playing the game within the game and focusing on what you can control out there and making the adjustments when necessary, and you know, when all is said and done, just knowing that you gave it everything you had.”
Strasburg struck out 13 of the 26 batters he faced in his one start this season against the Cubs, giving up four hits and three runs (two earned) over seven innings in an 8-4 win in the nation’s capital, where he’ll face Chicago again tonight in the series opener of the NLDS.
Asked for his thoughts on the Cubs’ lineup he’ll face tonight, Strasburg said that they had so many roster options he wasn’t sure which players to prepare for in the series opener.
“They've got a lot of guys; you really don't know who's going to be in the lineup just yet,” Strasburg explained.
“We faced them this year. I faced them in past years and stuff. I think the biggest thing is focusing on what you can control, and that's execution and trusting the guy next to you. I think that's a huge thing for us, and hopefully the fans are going to be there with us.”
Cubs’ skipper Joe Maddon offered his own scouting report on Strasburg when he met with reporters in the nation’s capital on Thursday.
“I'm just reading about him,” Maddon said. “I mean, nothing really new to figure out. Strasburg has been really good this last month, obviously. High incorporation of his changeup; really becoming even a more dominant pitch. He's always had the wonderful fastball. He's a good athlete. Strike-throwing ability, everything's there. It's just, you know, you've just got to go out there with your best at-bats rights now. He's good. They are all good. Every player right now is good, all the pitchers you see are good.”
Strasburg has held opposing hitters to a .111 AVG on the changeup Maddon mentioned in 2017, and generated 67 swinging strikes with the 309 he’s thrown this season (22%), as compared to his fastball (.237 BAA, 133 swinging strikes out of 1,219 pitches, 11%), his slider (.258 BAA, 48 swinging strikes out of 399, 12%), curve (.214 BAA, 31 swinging strikes on 301 pitches, 10%), and two-seamer (.257 BAA, 14 of 151, 9%).
When he takes the mound tonight, he’ll be making his second postseason start, and his first since 2014. He was asked yesterday if there was anything he remembered from his last NLDS outing that he can take with him into tonight’s start, and what was different then as compared to now.
“I think the biggest difference is really just kind of the media attention, and, you know, all the stuff that goes around this game,” Strasburg said. “But for the most part, once you get out there between the lines, we're playing the same game. It's no different. It's about who can, number one, execute properly in certain situations; take advantage of the other team's mistakes, and just keep moving forward. Keep pushing, keep grinding until the last out's made.”
He also talked about how he’ll try to manage his adrenaline, knowing it will be there in the NLDS opener.
“I think you've got to recognize that you know it's going to be there,” he explained.
“It's focusing on your process, focusing on your routine, being in on each pitch, one pitch at a time.”