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Washington Nationals’ World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg returns to Grapefruit League action

It was definitely not Game 6 of the World Series when Stephen Strasburg faced the Astros again on Friday.

Tampa Bay Rays v Washington Nationals Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Max Scherzer acknowledged after his 2020 debut in Grapefruit League action last week that there was no comparison between that outing and his previous start in competitive action, which took place in the final game of the 2019 Fall Classic.

“The last game I pitched was the Game 7 of the World Series,” Scherzer said, “and we’re talking about Spring Training, so it’s a little hard to replicate that, but once you get going here, I know how Spring Training works, and here in a few starts that’s when everything starts to really matter.”

Stephen Strasburg started Game 6 of the Series with the Houston Astros, opted out of the final four years and $100M of his contract with the Nationals, tested the free agent market, returned to Washington on a 7-year/$245M deal, and faced the Astros again in his first trip to the mound this Spring on Friday afternoon.

“I think the last time I was in a competitive setting, it was a pretty big situation,” Strasburg said, as quoted by MASN’s Pete Kerzel, after going 1 13 innings against the ‘Stros, striking out three of the first four batters in the appearance before things went all pear-shaped in the second.

“You try not to think about how you’re feeling out there, but it didn’t really have the same rush of adrenaline as the last start. You just kinda roll with what you’ve got.”

Strasburg looked sharp early, especially with his changeup, but after retiring the first four batters, a one-out single, wild pitch, walk, RBI single, and two-run double followed and the right-hander was done a third of the way through the second, having thrown 35 pitches, 22 for strikes.

“His fastball was coming out,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martine told reporters. “His breaking balls were pretty good, changeup was good. Fighting his mechanics a little bit, but that’s why we have Spring Training.”

He also, honestly, got squeezed on a couple close pitches, and it was Angel Hernandez who was calling balls and strikes.

“Yeah, you know, it’s Spring Training for everybody,” Strasburg joked when asked if getting used to dealing with that was part of a normal Spring progression.

“It’s not the first time, it’s not going to be the last. I think the biggest thing that I wanted to see today, is for the most part I thought my curveball had good, sharp break to it, got a little squirrelly in the second inning, threw some good changeups and threw some good fastballs to both sides of the plate, so the biggest thing I wanted to see today was the stuff being there and it was and now it’s just about fine-tuning everything and sharpening it up a little bit.”

Strasburg and the Nationals are taking their time getting ready this Spring, coming off a ‘19 campaign in which he was (18-6) with a 3.32 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 56 walks (2.41 BB/9), 251 Ks (10.81 K/9), and a .210/.271/.349 line against in 33 starts and 209 IP in the regular season, and (5-0) with a 1.98 ERA, a 2.39 FIP, four walks (0.99 BB/9), 47 Ks (11.64 K/9), and a .221/.239/.368 line against in six games, five starts, and 36 1⁄3 IP in the postseason, helping the Nationals win it all, and earning an MVP nod in the World Series.

“Luckily, I have the luxury to take my time early on in camp and know it’s a long season,” he said on Friday, again, as quoted by MASN’s Kerzel.

“Before, for a lot of guys, you’re ready to go from Day One ‘cause you’re fighting for a job. ... The biggest thing I wanted to see today was the stuff being there - and it was. Now it’s just about fine-tuning everything and sharpening up a little bit. But that’s just something I’ve grown accustomed to over the years and it seems like it’s you kind of get the adrenaline going again and then you settle down again. It’s getting the reps and getting out there a few more times and building off it.”

In five days he’ll take the mound again, barring any setbacks or issues between starts.