Stephen Strasburg’s 2019 campaign wrapped up with an impressive World Series MVP-worthy performance as the 2009 No. 1 overall pick went (5-0) with a 1.98 ERA, a 2.39 FIP, four walks, 47 Ks, and a .221/.239/.368 line against over six games, five starts, and 36 1⁄3 innings pitched in the postseason.
Strasburg finished the regular season (18-6) with a 3.32 ERA, a 3.25 FIP, 56 walks, 251 Ks, and a .210/.271/.349 line against in 33 starts and 209 IP.
The start of the 2020 campaign was delayed for the 32-year-old right-hander, who had a nerve impingement in his right wrist causing discomfort, but after time off, bullpen work, and a sim game in Nationals Park, Strasburg got the go-ahead to return to the rotation in Sunday afternoon’s series finale with the Baltimore Orioles.
Stephen Strasburg, Beautiful Changeup (slow). pic.twitter.com/l7gjcm0CBP— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 9, 2020
“The tingling in his thumb is gone, and that’s a good sign,” Davey Martinez said when he spoke to reporters on Saturday afternoon.
“We watched him, and like I said, he’s throwing some really good bullpens. That was the big thing for me. Nothing in his mechanics has changed.
“Everything is good, so based on conversations with him he feels good. He wants to pitch. He’s ready to pitch on Sunday.”
“He’s completely past it,” GM Mike Rizzo added, echoing the manager’s pronouncements when he talked to reporters in a Zoom call before the finale with the Orioles.
“He wouldn’t be on the mound today if he wasn’t, and his first outing of the season, we’re obviously — eyes are going to be on him and watching him for fatigue, but we’re hoping that he gives us a great start and a chance to win the baseball game, which he often does when he pitches.”
Stephen Strasburg, Filthy 86mph Changeup (release/spin axis/slow). pic.twitter.com/3GYoCXRlCR— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 9, 2020
Strasburg was extremely efficient through his first four innings on the mound this season, working around two infield singles and throwing just 43 pitches to O’s hitters.
Back-to-back, one-out hits and a walk in the fifth got the right-hander in trouble for the first time, however, and the O’s capitalized on their opportunity with Bryan Holaday connecting for an RBI single, 1-0, Hanser Alberto doubling to drive in two, 3-0, and Anthony Santander’s single driving in two more, 5-0, before Strasburg was done...
Stephen Strasburg’s Line: 4.1 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 2 Ks, 69 P, 45 S, 3/4 GO/FO.
The game was suspended in the sixth when rain in the nation’s capital and a malfunctioning tarp left the field unplayable. They’ll pick things up on Friday night in Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
At one point in the fifth inning on Sunday, Strasburg shook the wrist that had been an issue for him early this season, prompting his manager to climb the dugout steps on the way out to the mound, but the starter waived him off and tried to continue with his outing. How did he convince his manager he was good to keep going?
“He said he was fine,” Martinez said simply when he spoke after the postponed game.
“We were going to go out there and check on him. He said he was fine. So I let him [stay] out there. He was actually throwing the ball well until that inning.
“I think at the end there he just started getting the ball up, but the first few innings he was cruising, he was doing well.”
“My fastball command kind of escaped me there that last inning,” Strasburg explained in talking about what went wrong in the fifth, “so obviously fell behind there in some counts, and then when you kind of get to two strikes, I gave up a couple two-strike hits there that, again, you kind of want to make a better pitch than that with two strikes.
“You’re kind of in the driver’s seat, and typically a hitter will shorten up and just try to use the whole field, and kind of helping them when I leave it over the plate. I need to make a better pitch next time.”
Did he feel something in his hand when he shook it out in a way that got his manager’s attention?
“Yeah. I mean, to be honest, you know I felt it and I don’t know if it was necessarily fatigue or just not having necessarily the stamina built up quite yet,” Strasburg said, “... but it’s something where I don’t think I’m doing any long-term harm on it, but it does have an impact on being able to throw the baseball and being able to commit to the pitches. So, yeah, that’s something I haven’t quite figured out, how to pitch through it yet, so I think the goal is to continue to get built up and get the pitch count up to where that won’t be flaring up over the course of the start.”
How did the rest of his body react to his first live game action of the 2020 campaign? What led to the lack of command late in the outing? General fatigue?
“It’s — I think it’s more like not so much the pitches, the amount of pitches, but more like the up and downs, like get hot and sit down for a bit.
“That’s always been something that’s kind of been more impactful on my body and stuff, so I went out there for the fifth, gave it everything I had, wasn’t very good, but it is what it is.”
As far as positives to take out of his first outing, along with the four scoreless innings at the start, Strasburg said his offspeed pitches were sharp in the outing, and before he dealt with fatigue, he felt good on the mound two-plus weeks after he was forced to miss his first start.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s — again, it’s going to be a process. I think for the most part I’m symptom free,” Strasburg said, “and that’s a positive, and now it’s just kind of like trying to commit to it. Trying to trust the stuff now. Because I think when you try to grind out certain things like this, especially when it’s in your arm or in your throwing motion, as much as you try to maintain your mechanics, and maintain your finish on the pitches, I think it’s — your body tells you to stop.
‘Again, it’s something where I just got to kind of work through it, and the more reps I get the sharper I’ll get.”