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Washington Nationals’ Hunter Strickland working hard to bounce back after injury-impacted 2019 campaign

What will the Nationals get out of a healthy Hunter Strickland in 2020?

Davey Martinez liked what he saw from reliever Hunter Strickland in the hard-throwing right-hander’s first few appearances out of Washington’s bullpen, after he was acquired from the Seattle Mariners at July’s trade deadline this past summer.

“He’s a guy that goes out there and you know he throws strikes, which is key,” Martinez told reporters.

“But I never realized how good a stuff he really has,” the Nationals’ manager said, “... 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.”

Strickland made just four appearances in the majors before the trade, however, with three in March and just one in July, as he dealt with a Grade 2 strain of his right lat muscle.

In 24 games and 21 innings pitched for the Nationals, the six-year veteran put up a 5.14 ERA, a 6.31 FIP, eight walks, 15 Ks, and a .247/.326/.494 line against, giving up five home runs (for a career high of six or 2.22 HR/9 allowed on the season) in significantly fewer innings than he’d logged in previous seasons in his career, and he struggled in the NLDS matchup with the Los Angeles Dodgers, giving up four hits, three of them home runs, and four runs total in the two innings he threw during the postseason, which ended with the Nationals winning it all.

The three homers Strickland allowed in two innings in the NLDS were one fewer than what he gave up in entire seasons in 2015 (4 HRs in 51 13 IP), ‘16 (4 in 61 IP), and ‘17 (4 in 61 13 IP), and two fewer than he gave up in the 2018 campaign (5 in 45 13 IP).

Though he wasn’t on the roster for either the NLCS or World Series, Strickland was hard at work behind the scenes as he tried to get back to 100% after a long season for the 31-year-old righty.

“I just think he has to get back to full health,” GM Mike Rizzo told reporters at the Winter Meetings in early December.

“When we made the trade for him with Seattle,” Rizzo explained, “he was coming off just a very, very few innings, active innings in the major leagues [last] year. So he was kind of chasing it from the start with us, and I think that he’s an ultra-competitor, and he was ultra-amped up, and I just think he has to be healthy. I think a fresh start with our program, and starting from Day One with us, I think it will really help him. But we’ve seen flashes of really good stuff with this guy. Not only with his days in San Francisco, but some of the outings he had here.

“The stuff is there, we just have to tweak some of the delivery and some of the mechanics, and I think we’ll have ourselves a really reliable reliever.”

While he, obviously, enjoyed being part of the Nationals’ World Series win, Strickland said that overall, his 2019 campaign was frustrating.

“Collectively, it was unbelievable and that’s what you dream about, so that was awesome,” Strickland said of the win in the Fall Classic when he spoke with reporters at WinterFest in the nation’s capital earlier this month. “We’re going to try to do it again next year.”

“On a personal level,” he added, “obviously I was hurt for the majority of the year, back and forth, and on a personal level it wasn’t as successful [a season] as I would want it to be, so just trying to fine tune some things there, and work on that and just overall perform better.”

Asked about his struggles last season, and what he’s working on as he tries to get ready for the 2020 campaign, Strickland said he was focused on his release point and his mobility as he prepares for the new season.

“My lower half has been really the issue and just kind of a lack of mobility in that aspect, which ultimately hinders the upper body and the entire situation,” he explained.

“Just really kind of diving into the mobility work and concentrating on that and just kind of trying to fine-tune some things.”

“I’m excited to see where Strickland is at after all the work that he was doing throughout the whole World Series run,” closer Sean Doolittle said at WinterFest.

“He was working his butt off to make some adjustments, so I’m excited to see where he’s at.”

Going into the season healthy, Strickland said, noting that he is 100% now, will be a big help after he was injured out of the gate last March, and “chasing it” as Rizzo said, the rest of the way.

“I think it will be huge,” Strickland acknowledged. “I’m looking forward to it and just take it day by day and be ready to go whenever my name is called.”

Having been to the World Series before, when he was with the San Francisco Giants in 2014, Strickland said he also knows what it takes to rebound and try to defend a World Series title.

How should the Nationals approach the new season after winning it all?

“I mean, it’s over,” Strickland said. “We wake up the next day, and somebody is wanting to beat you, somebody is wanting to take the ring the next year, so you can’t get too caught up in it. You have to enjoy it as the moment goes, but you can’t get too caught up in it, we still have a job to do, and realistically speaking, nobody cares about last year now, it’s what we do now.”