Stephen Strasburg worked around a two-out walk in a scoreless, 17-pitch first inning in the Washington Nationals’ Grapefruit League matchup with the Houston Astros on Wednesday night, but then the 32-year-old right-hander, in his first start back in game action following an issue with his left calf, had to wait around for 40 minutes as his teammates sent eleven batters to the plate in a five-run bottom of the first.
Going into the outing, manager Davey Martinez said he would, “... try to stretch him out to 80-90 pitches,” in Strasburg’s third start of the spring, after he tested the calf over five up-downs in a sim game and threw 74 pitches this past weekend.
“The biggest thing is his ups,” Martinez said. “Trying to get him his ups, trying to get him through that sixth inning.”
“We’ll keep an eye on him. My focus is to watch his mechanics and see how he’s doing, and just watch how he reacts every inning and go from there.”
Strasburg worked around a two-out walk in his second inning of work, as well, completing two scoreless, and after another long wait, as the Nationals added three more runs, he put the first batter on in the third, with his third walk, but erased him, on an unassisted double play on a liner to Josh Harris at second, and a groundout later, he was through three.
Three straight hits, a leadoff double, single, and RBI double in the fourth got the Astros on the board, 8-2, but Strasburg retired the next three batters in order to finish four innings at 68 pitches overall.
Back-to-back walks to start the fifth ended Strasburg’s outing after 83 pitches (44 strikes, 39 balls according to Washington Post writer Jesse Dougherty), with the righty giving up three hits, five walks, and four earned runs while striking out just one of the 19 batters he faced.
“Had a little bit of everything there during the game,” Strasburg said after what ended up an 11-8 loss to the Astros, “... and mechanically just kind of trying to figure things out right now, but it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish I guess.”
Strasburg said he was just happy to get his work in, but there will be things to work on as he preps for his final start of the spring with Opening Day fast approaching. What was going on while he was on the mound against the ‘Stros?
“Just flying open, head is flying open, and it’s definitely something that I’ve done before, but just trying to slow myself down a little bit and let myself pitch more,” he explained.
“He had a lot of misses to his glove side, which ultimately means that he was flying open,” his manager said in his own post game Zoom call with reporters.
“So, he’s going to throw a bullpen,” Martinez continued.
“I know he’s going to work with [pitching coach Jim Hickey on his mechanics, stay a little bit close, but the good thing is, he felt good, his pitch count got up to 83 pitches, that’s important right now, so he’s got a bullpen before his next start and I know he talked about working on his mechanics, so he’ll hone in and get it squared away and hopefully his next outing will be a little bit better.”
The good news? The calf wasn’t an issue at all, and Strasburg came out of the outing feeling good.
“Really it was kind of once I kind of ruptured the tendon it was 3-5 days, a little bit of tightness here and there, but it really wasn’t an issue,” Strasburg said of the calf issue.
Wait ... who ruptured what now?
“It’s basically the plantaris tendon in your calf, that I guess you don’t really need it,” the ‘09 No. 1 overall pick said.
“So, it’s kind of one of those lucky things where it just kind of went away and not really a big issue.”
When he heard “ruptured tendon” from the doctor, was that a scary diagnosis to get? No, apparently.
“Doc was pretty adamant about it,” Strasburg laughed. “He said kind of if we still walked on all fours you might need it, but you don’t really need it anymore.”
“It’s not — it’s something that your body doesn’t really need,” Martinez said, “according to what — when we heard that and the next day he felt fine, he was out there throwing, it doesn’t bother him at all, we watched him land and everything was fine, and like I said, after the game we asked him and he said it never was an issue.”