Davey Martinez pumped his first when asked for his reaction to having Stephen Strasburg back and healthy in Spring Training, after the 32-year-old, 11-year veteran made two starts and threw five innings total last year, before he was diagnosed with carpal tunnel neuritis, which required season-ending surgery on his right hand.
“Yes!” Martinez said, recalling his reaction to the news that the surgery was successful. “We get him back. He’s a big part of our rotation. And to miss a guy like that, it’s really hard, and not only hard for me, but hard for his teammates as well. So to see him back here and see him on the mound, and I watched him today, he’s got such an unbelievable routine, he was doing towel drills today from the mound, and it’s good to see him back and having fun.”
Strasburg talked to reporters for the first time this spring on Sunday morning, and the ‘09 No. 1 overall pick said getting a diagnosis last August, after he struggled with the issue for weeks before shutting it down, was a relief, and when he woke up from the surgery, it was almost immediately cleared up.
“I knew something wasn’t right, so I’m glad they thought it was something specific, and something that was pretty easy to fix,” the 2009 No. 1 overall pick said during his Zoom conference call from West Palm Beach, FL’s FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
“I just had chronic numbness in my thumb, it aggravated it every time I tried to throw, and basically would just like go from numbness in my thumb to numbness in my whole hand.”
Numbness in the hand of a pitcher throwing low-to-mid-90s heat is an obvious problem, but the cause of it, he said, was likely just years of throwing a baseball.
“I don’t really try to look back too far to say why it happened,” Strasburg explained, “... but obviously I’ve been throwing a baseball for a long time, and that injury is from repetitive use, and I was just really happy to go in and it’s like a 15-minute procedure and I wake up and even though I was all bandaged up, the numbness in my thumb just went away.”
“I’ve really worked hard with our PT staff and all offseason to strengthen everything around it, and it’s definitely felt a lot better than it has for all last year.”
Going from the high of a 2019 campaign which ended with Strasburg named the World Series MVP to an injury-shortened 2020 season was frustrating for everyone involved.
“It was tough,” Martinez said of not having Strasburg available.
“You think about it, he was the MVP of the World Series the year before, a big part of our success, not only in 2019, but every year. He’s one of our workhorses, and not to see him out there every five days was tough.
“But for me, if he was ever going to get hurt and ever going to fix an issue, last year would have been the time.
“I’m glad he got it fixed, and I’m glad he feels great, and we’re going to move forward.”
Coming off the World Series win and WS MVP award, Strasburg signed a 7-year/$245M deal after briefly testing the free agent market, but after a few weeks of Spring Training, baseball shut down in mid-March, then ramped up quickly in July for the 60-game season played as a pandemic hit the country, and he said the odd, start-and-stop-and-start again scenario he and the rest of the league faced likely played a role in his issues.
“It was definitely something that started in the first part of the summer camp. I don’t know if it was just like the intensity, just ramping up really quick,” Strasburg said.
“It’s obviously when you go out there and push your body to another level too quickly it has a tendency to tell you to stop, and sometimes that’s really beneficial for you in the long-run.”
Having, hopefully, put the issue behind him, Martinez said, Strasburg has been a different person early in Spring Training.
“He came into Spring Training with definitely a different attitude. He’s smiling a lot more, laughing a lot more,” the manager said.
“You know, the start and the stop and the start and the uncertainties of when we were going to start again, it bothered a lot of guys, and him being one of them.
“With these guys, with pitchers, they’re so used to a routine and getting going at a certain time so that they’re built up to exactly what — they really didn’t have that last year.
“We ended up starting and having Spring Training 2.0, and we had a short period of time to get these guys ready.”
Will it end up being a blessing in disguise that the injury happened in the odd 2020 season, with the time off being helpful in the long-run like Strasburg suggested.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely possible,” he said. “I think there’s — in this game if you look at the season as a whole, then you kind of get swallowed up into the grind, and I think it works so much better for me just to take it one day at a time. I’m really glad that I’m able to be with the training staff here from the get-go, kind of get back into the routine because they’re top-notch and they definitely understand my body probably more than I do myself at this point.”
Has he changed anything about his preparation and routine as a result of the injury and the surgery?
Strasburg started throwing earlier than he would have normally, in part due to his innings deficit last season, but other than that he didn’t see any need to alter his approach to his offseason work.
“No, I mean, again, it’s a very simple procedure, and I’m lucky that I haven’t had any residual effects from it,” Strasburg said.
“It’s pretty much been feeling great, and coming out really well, so I think if anything, all the work I’ve done strengthening it has only improved the movement of my pitches.”
Will he be able to get back to 2019 form?
“I mean, I don’t have a crystal ball, so just came into camp ready to go and it’s just going to be the normal progression for Spring Training.”