Stephen Strasburg looked at the success pitchers like Yu Darvish and Carlos Carrasco enjoyed pitching out of the stretch and ditching the full windup, looked into it over the winter, talked to Washington Nationals’ Pitching Coach Mike Maddux, and decided to explore making changes as he prepares for his eighth major league season.
On Friday afternoon in West Palm Beach, Florida, Strasburg tossed two scoreless on the mound against St. Louis in the brand new Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, striking out three Cardinals’ batters while working exclusively out of the stretch for each of his 23 pitches.
He talked afterwards about the thinking that went into the decision.
“I feel like as I’ve gotten older, for whatever reason, the windup has just been an issue as far as getting that right feeling of staying on the mound,” Strasburg explained.
“Not drifting too much towards first or third base side on my leg kick and sticking the landing a little bit better, so I just started doing it in the offseason and I feel like I’ve always been able to maintain my stuff out of the stretch even when I would just slide- step exclusively, so I worked on it in the offseason, it felt good, felt good today, so I think it’s just something that I’m just going to continue to work on.”
Dusty Baker told reporters he was fine with the results and Strasburg’s thinking, as long as Maddux is on board.
"If Mike don't have a problem with it, I don't have a problem with it," Baker said, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jamal Collier.
Strasburg, 28, finished the 2016 campaign (15-4) after a (13-0) start, posting a 3.60 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 44 walks (2.68) and 183 Ks (11.15 K/9) in 24 starts and 147 2⁄3 innings pitched before a torn pronator tendon in his right arm forced him from the mound, ending his season in early September.
His start on Friday was his first of the Spring. Baker described Strasburg as “electric” and “sharp”, especially for the first time out in Grapefruit League action.
Strasburg said he could always return to his windup, but he would continue to work on his new approach, explaining that the goal was more easily repeatable mechanics and getting batters out with whatever works, which this season, as he told reporters back in December and once again today, will include less sliders after he fell in love with the relatively new pitch last season and leaned on it too heavily.
Strasburg threw his slider 17.1% of the time last season, (up from 0.4% and 1.3% the previous two seasons), after not throwing one at all over the first four years in the majors, and threw less fastballs (57.2%, down from 63.4% in 2015, 61.4% career) and curveballs, (12.6%, down from 22.4% in ‘15, 19.1 % career), while his changeup usage remained consistent (13.1% vs 13.6% in ‘15 and 16.4% career).
The moves to pitch out of the stretch and cut down on his slider, he said today, are not major adjustments.
“I’m not trying to reinvent myself,” Strasburg said, as quoted by the Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo. “But I’m trying to simplify things as much as I can.”