Hunter Strickland’s history with a now-former Washington Nationals’ outfielder led to some raised eyebrows when the right-hander was acquired from the Seattle Mariners in advance of the trade deadline last month, but the 30-year-old right-hander, who set off a brawl with fastball to Bryce Harper’s back in 2017, told reporters after the trade to the Nats that it was a mistake that he’d moved on and learned from a while back.
“That’s 100% in the past,” Strickland said once he’d joined his new team.
“I mean, that is what it is. We learn from things we do and that’s how we stick around in the game. Just keep competing and do your job.”
The fact that Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo was willing to trade for him was a sign for the pitcher that his new team had moved past the incident as well.
“That’s huge,” Strickland told reporters. “And like I said earlier, I’m more than happy to be here, and just blessed for this opportunity, so it definitely speaks volumes.”
Getting to watch him for the first time in a Nationals uniform, Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said he was impressed with what he saw after a ten-pitch, two-strike, 1-2-3 frame back on August 2nd.
“His slider was a lot crisper than I remember. His fastball was electric, it really was,” the second-year skipper said.
Strickland gave up one run in his first eight appearances out of the Nationals’ bullpen, with two walks and five Ks in his first seven innings, but a weight room accident which resulted in a broken nose threatened to send the second of three relievers Rizzo acquired at the trade deadline to the IL, after Roenis Elías injured his hamstring in his first appearance with his new team.
Strickland wasn’t having it though.
“Broken nose never killed anyone,” Strickland wrote on Instagram. “ ... barbell=1=me=0.”
“He’s a tough nut,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN’s Sports Junkies after the injury, noting that the reliever went to see a doctor and came back ready to pitch. “He went there and came back from the doctor with a patch on his nose and deemed himself ready to pitch. I think, his attitude and makeup, I think, is kind of what this bullpen is all about, so I think he’ll be fine.”
Strickland returned to the mound two days later, tossing two scoreless against Pittsburgh’s Pirates on 24 pitches.
Over the weekend, Strickland threw two innings against the Chicago Cubs, striking out all three of the batters he faced in his first appearance before giving up a run on a home run the second time out, the first homer he’s allowed in 11 innings since joining the Nationals.
His new manager said he liked what he saw from the reliever over the weekend, and has liked everything he’s seen since he joined the Nats.
“He’s been really good,” Davey Martinez said on Saturday, “and I said this before, he’s a veteran guy that’s been in high-leverage situations that can do multiple things.
“He’s a guy that goes out there and you know he throws strikes, which is key, but I never realized how good a stuff he really has, and now seeing him every day, he’s got a good curveball, really good fastball, and he’s got a changeup that’s really good, so he’s got three really nasty pitches that he can throw effectively and throw for strikes.”
“It’s definitely special to be a part of that, facing a good team, obviously a big series here, but to go out there and everybody individually do their job was huge for us,” Strickland said.
Asked if he was getting more comfortable with his new team, and with his stuff after he’d missed four months with a lat strain before returning for one appearance before the trade from Seattle, Strickland said he was at full strength and is determined to contribute to the Nationals’ cause.
“I feel 100%, I feel fresh, so I’m just kind of going out there and trying to make each pitch and just kind of go from there.”
[ed. note - “According to reports this morning Strickland will be away from the team for a few days on Paternity Leave.”]