In his last full season of work in 2019, Stephen Strasburg held opposing hitters to a .140 AVG on his changeup, which he used to record 76 of 251 strikeouts on the season.
It’s one of the biggest weapons in his arsenal, but it’s one that takes the longest to come along as he tries to build up to the start of a season.
Strasburg spiked a couple in his first Grapefruit League outing of the year on Tuesday night, which was his first outing in competitive action since he underwent surgery to clear up the carpal tunnel neuritis which limited him to two starts and five innings of work in 2020’s 60-game COVID campaign.
“I think there is a history of just that’s the last thing that comes with him,” Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters of the changeup once Strasburg’s 2021 debut was in the books.
The issue, Martinez said, is, “just finding that comfort zone, the release point of it, but other than that I thought he threw the ball well.”
Stephen Strasburg, Fastball, Changeup, Curveball (spin isolated). pic.twitter.com/Pm4KkghBYz— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 5, 2019
Strasburg too was happy with the outing overall, while acknowledging that not everything is there right now, though he did try to work everything in his arsenal into his first start of the spring.
“Just throwing all the pitches,” Strasburg said of his approach to his initial outing. “I would say I was trying to throw more changeups, but again, it’s kind of you do this enough times that the changeup — command of that is the thing that comes last for some reason, so I’m just going to continue to work through it, and it will come eventually.”
Has Martinez, in his years as a player, coach, and now manager, noticed that sort of thing before, where a pitcher’s main or one of his main pitches isn’t there right away, or takes a little while coming around?
“There’s been some guys,” Martinez said, “that have had trouble — they’re curveball pitchers or slider pitchers — that had trouble in spring and it was probably one of their best pitches.
“And as they pitch more, they’ll start throwing it — get a better feel for it. The good thing is, his fastball, especially in the second inning, [Strasburg’s] fastball looked like it had a little life on it, a little jump at the end, so that was good.”
Stephen Strasburg, Insane 90mph Changeup (with Tail).— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 2, 2019
And...Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/3rzOWagWhV
Strasburg offered some geographical, or maybe anemological explanations that might explain why his change comes along slowly.
“I don’t know. Honestly, it might be Florida,” he suggested. “I feel like it’s hard to get a good feel for it when it’s like you’re working out on the field and the wind is blowing it seems like 100 MPH one direction, and then like today, I was throwing into a straight crosswind, and it was like, ‘Yeah, it makes my changeup is really nasty.’
“But it’s like — at the same time — I don’t really feel confident about knowing where it’s going.
“I mean, I would just chalk it up to just reps. It’s a feel pitch, but at the same time I need to be aggressive with it, and it’s all about being aggressive with it at the right time in the delivery, and I think that’s just one thing where the game starts to slow down the more reps you get out there, and then you just — for me just naturally it starts to tighten up.”
If Florida is the problem, is there an ideal state for throwing his changeup?
“D.C.’s not a state, but that’s a pretty good place,” Strasburg said.