Stephen Strasburg arrived at Spring Training last February with a plan to pitch out of the stretch exclusively for the first time in his career. He stuck with it throughout a big 2017 campaign which saw the 29-year-old righty go (15-4) in 28 starts with a 2.52 ERA, 2.72 FIP, 204 Ks (10.47 K/9), 47 walks (2.41 BB/9), and a pretty stingy .203/.265/.317 line against in 175 1⁄3 innings pitched.
So is he planning on sticking with pitching out of the stretch in 2018?
“Why not?” he asked the reporter who wondered at WinterFest earlier this month in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C.
“The results were better,” Strasburg said, “but I can’t really control the results.
“I think it benefited me most by just being more consistent to home plate. It opened up different ways to attack guys. There were guys that kind of had my number, and facing them again, giving them a different look, kind of showed me that maybe I was doing something that was giving them an advantage, so I don’t know whether it’s something that they see with me tipping my pitches, or my timing to home plate, there are a variety of things, but I think as a pitcher you’ve got to focus on what you can control, and that’s doing everything you can to keep them off-balance.”
Whatever he was doing worked. He stuck with his plan, and his routine, and the result was one of his best seasons in the majors thus far, and a third-place finish in the race for the NL Cy Young award, his highest finish in the yearly voting.
In fact, the one time he changed his routine, he explained, was, in his mind, what led to the only real injury issue he dealt with last season.
He was named to the NL All-Star roster for the third time in his career, and the second straight season, and traveled to Miami for the festivities though he didn’t pitch in the game.
Coming out of the break, he made two starts before he landed on the DL with what was described as right elbow nerve impingement that cost him close to a month.
“I felt like at the All-Star Break — it was a tough situation — might have to re-think about if I’m going to actually pitch or not pitch in an All-Star Game whether or not I would actually go altogether,” he said.
“Because that was kind of the issue that I felt like why I got hurt, is that I was on such a good program with the training staff, with the message therapist, so I was in this routine and then all of a sudden you’re still asked to throw, potentially pitch, maybe not, but not have any access or ability to really stick to your routine, and then once that’s over it’s right back into it: bullpen, day off, game.
“I just know that little lapse, for whatever reason, I felt like it pushed me back a little bit, started making my arm hurt, you know, my arm felt good right before that and then it was like after that it just didn’t feel right. And I’m glad at that point I kind of tried to put my pride aside and say, ‘Hey I want to be there in the end, so just got to get it right, and no point in pushing through it,’ and I’m glad it worked out that way.”
Strasburg went (7-1) in eight starts after the DL stint, posting a 0.84 ERA with 10 walks, 63 Ks, and a .171/.221/.219 line against in 53 2⁄3 IP down the stretch. He also made two starts in the NLDS, tossing 14 innings in which he allowed just two earned runs in what were his second and third career postseason outings.
Since his goal at the start of the 2017 campaign was to be there and be available when needed after missing out on two of the Nats’ previous three postseason runs, he was, of course, happy with the results overall when asked to reflect on what he was able to accomplish last summer.
“I think it just opened my eyes into like — I think maybe putting too many limits on myself,” Strasburg said.
“I think physically, there was that little spot around the All-Star Game, but I’m [happy] with the way I bounced back and I think I progressed a little bit more in that department in how my body works and what I need to do to stay consistent. I think it’s just — I’m not satisfied by any means, I think there is more in the tank, so I was excited to get back to work as soon as the season was over and keep trying to get better, get stronger, and ready for the next season.”