Stephen Strasburg tossed three scoreless out of the bullpen in the NL Wild Card game with the Milwaukee Brewers, and in his first three starts in the 2019 postseason, the Washington Nationals’ 31-year-old righty has been dominant, posting a 1.89 ERA, one walk, 29 Ks, and a .222/.230/.347 line against in 19 innings pitched.
Tonight in Minute Maid Park, however, the 2009 No. 1 overall pick is taking the mound in the World Series for the first time in his career.
Strasburg was asked in his pre-start press conference on Tuesday afternoon, about how he though he’d react to the pressure of being on the biggest stage in baseball?
“I don’t know,” Strasburg said. “I’ve never done it before. I know what I expect of myself. I’m going to hold true to that. That’s all I can really control. My approach is everything and how I respond to whatever happens once the ball leaves my hand is just as important.”
Talking about handling the nerves and pressure of playing in the World Series, Houston’s manager, A.J. Hinch, told reporters before Game 1 that he wanted his players to embrace the situation they find themselves in.
“I want the nerves,” Hinch said. “I want our guys to be a little bit on edge. We’re playing in the World Series. It should feel like a big deal. It should feel like something extra special.
“And then once the game settles in, I want our guys to be themselves. I don’t want them to be too hyper or too out of their norm.”
“Enjoy the uniqueness of being in a World Series,” he added.
“It doesn’t come around nearly often enough. I know we’ve been here a couple of times in three years. But you really should embrace it.”
“Yeah, I think it’s natural,” Strasburg said, when asked about Hinch’s comments.
“It just shows that you care. And I think everybody in the clubhouse cares, and we care about each other. You’re going to get the butterflies. Done it enough times that the more you try and settle in, the more it gets.
“And I think it’s beneficial to just play wherever you’re at. You know it’s going to be a storm out there. You’re going to weather it.”
Strasburg’s ability to weather storms this season, and his demeanor on the mound, and off the field, are things Martinez has pointed to when he’s talked about the change he’s seen in his starter, though he said yesterday that his experience in his two campaigns managing the pitcher have been overwhelmingly positive.
“He’s been unbelievable both years,” Martinez said. “This year he’s obviously showed more of a looseness about himself. I know we all talked about his dancing. But don’t get this wrong, his day to pitch I don’t talk to him. I stay away from him. He’s very intense. That will never change.
“He does the due diligence, he works unbelievably hard to get ready for the day he pitches.
“But, man, what an unbelievable year he’s had, and what he’s meant to us getting here. This guy has been the rock, he really has. [Max] Scherzer -- I could speak volumes of [Aníbal] Sánchez, but [Strasburg has] been the constant. Guy that goes out there and gives us a chance to win every five days.”
Martinez talked last winter about the work Strasburg put in over the offseason to prepare for the 2019 campaign, and he brought it up over the course of the Nats’ run to the NL Pennant.
Strasburg said the sticking to the routine he has throughout the season has been a big part of the success he’s had.
“I think the biggest thing is not wavering from it,” he explained.
“It’s not trying to work on things over the course of the season and kind of just let the chips fall.”
He knows what he’s getting into though, as he said when he talked about the Astros’ lineup.
“They’ve got a little bit of everything,” he said, “so I think it’s just knowing how you want to attack certain guys and not just fall into the pattern of just throwing the same pitch to start guys off or finish guys and really just take it one pitch at a time and focus in on that.”
Having an opportunity to observe the Astros’ hitters in Game 1, he said, also gives him a good idea if what he’s learned matches up with what he sees.
“I always try and pay attention to every game,” Strasburg said.
“Try and put yourself out there in certain situations. You try and see if -- the homework that you’ve been doing matches up with what you see on the field.”
He already knows the Astros well, however, since the Nationals see a lot of their opponent in Spring Training every year, now that they share the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
He did watch the ALCS as well.
“I watched a little bit,” Strasburg said.
“But, again, it’s kind of beneficial that we share a Spring Training complex with them. You look at some things that they might be doing differently, but for the most part hitters don’t really change too much over the years.”
Strasburg has changed over the years, as his manager said, and now he’ll get to show the baseball world what he’s become on the biggest stage there is.