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Washington Nationals News & Notes: Stephen Strasburg throwing; Juan Soto long-term talk; Luis García at shortstop + more...

Catch up on the latest news from Day 1 of Spring Training 2022...

Stephen Strasburg in 2022:

Stephen Strasburg has made just seven starts, and thrown just 26 2⁄3 innings, since the 33-year-old, 2009 No. 1 overall pick signed his 7-year/$245M free agent deal in D.C. after he’d briefly tested free agency following the Washington NationalsWorld Series win in 2019. It has been a difficult run for Strasburg since he and the club that drafted him made it to the top of the game.

Strasburg had season-ending surgery for carpal tunnel neuritis in his right hand in 2020, and in 2021, it was neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome which necessitated yet another surgical procedure (for the starter who had Tommy John surgery in 2010) and ended the 12th big league campaign of his career.

The hope when he had another surgery last summer, was that Strasburg would be back at it by now, and according to GM Mike Rizzo on Sunday, the now-33-year-old starter is throwing and preparing for his first live BP of the year.

Rizzo said he didn’t talk to Strasburg much this winter, with the lockout keeping the team and its players from communicating, so he was happy to see the starter is doing well now that the lockout is over and Spring Training has officially begun.

“Obviously pre-lockout I saw him occasionally at the ballpark, but post-[lockout] is when I saw him out here, and all the reports are he’s in Spring Training-mode preparation for the season and not in rehab-mode of any type, and he’s going to get on his regular program,” the GM said.

“[Pitching coach Jim] Hickey and [manager] Davey [Martinez] are going to get with all the pitchers and schedule out there live BPs — you know there’s a progression, you throw a bullpen, a live BP, and then we’ve got games right around the corner, so I think he’ll be in that progression somewhere.”

As he explained last summer, the Nationals don’t have a lot of experience with surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, but he was happy to see the progress Strasburg made over the winter.

“The one thing I can say is the circulatory problems are no longer with us. So that’s a good thing. That was the main reason for the surgery,” Rizzo told reporters.

Washington Nationals v Houston Astros Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

“We don’t have a whole lot of knowledge on pitchers with the thoracic outlet surgery, but I do know that he looks in great shape and he feels good with his throwing program, he’s on pace, but ... you never know until you let it loose for 32 starts to see where you’re at health-wise, but he looks good and he feels good, he feels confident, and the good thing is he’s in Spring Training preparing for the season and not in a rehabilitation mode. So that’s a good thing.”

Martinez said he spoke to Strasburg when the pitcher arrived at camp, and the starter said he wants to approach things like he would in any other Spring Training.

“We talked and he wants to attack Spring Training as if it was just a normal Spring Training,” the skipper said.

“Which — that’s an indication for me that he’s feeling pretty good, so like I said, we’re going to put eyes on him.

“As of right now he’s throwing a live BP on Tuesday, so I’m looking forward to watching that, and then we’ll go from there.”

“We met with him today about what he has done,” the skipper added. “He’s thrown quite a few bullpens already, so in that sense, we deem that he’ll be ready for a live [bullpen].

“Usually, when [pitchers] come to Spring Training, as you know, they throw a couple of sides before they go out, they throw a couple of bullpens before they go out, and then they hit the live BP, so for him to say he feels good enough to actually throw to live hitters, that’s a good sign, so like I said, we’ll start Tuesday with him throwing a live [bullpen], and after that, probably three days later he’ll throw another live, and then we’ll see how he progresses from there.”

Soto Long-Term Talks:

Last we heard/read in the Nationals/Juan Soto/long-term extension saga, the now-23-year-old outfielder got a 13-year/$350M offer from the team which he turned down before MLB locked players out after they failed to agree on a new CBA with the MLBPA. In his first talk with reporters this spring, Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo confirmed an offer was made back in early December.

He did, however, say the club plans to keep talking extension with their star right fielder.

“We made the offer really right before we couldn’t talk to him anymore,” Rizzo said, “so there really wasn’t a lot of dialogue after — because there wasn’t any time. We made an offer and all of a sudden the lockout happened, and we didn’t have much dialogue after that, but our side has plans to pick it up very soon. He’s our No. 1 priority.”

With a number of veterans (on expiring deals) and (a year-plus of) Trea Turner dealt at last July 30th’s trade deadline as part of the sell-off that kicked off the club’s reboot, and then Ryan Zimmerman retiring this winter, Rizzo was clear this weekend that this is now Soto’s team.

Major League Baseball Suspends Spring Training Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

“He’s the face of the team, the face of the franchise, he might be the face of Major League Baseball. It’s his team.

“He’s going to be a young leader, but he’s going to be the leader of the club.”

Considering how big a part of the next championship-caliber team Soto will be, the club trying to lock him up beyond the three years of team control that are left makes sense of course.

“We’re going to attack a deal with Juan Soto. I said that this is his team, he’s the face of the franchise, and I want him here for the long-term, so we’re going to continue to talk and try to make him a Nat for a long time,” Rizzo said.

Luis García at ... short?:

We’ve been wondering since shortstop Alcides Escobar signed on for another season in D.C. early this winter, and then the Nationals signed second baseman César Hernández, what the moves meant for 21-year-old, in-house infielder Luis García, who came up as a shortstop, but has played mostly second base since coming up to the majors in 2020.

There was a guy named Trea Turner over at short until last July (when he was dealt to LA), so the shift to second base for García (who came up when an injury presented an opportunity in 2020’s 60-game COVID ampaign), made sense, but as we noted earlier this winter, when manager Davey Martinez talked about García at short late last season, he didn’t give much to make you believe that the club was comfortable with him playing short at that point.

“He came up as a shortstop,” Martinez told reporters in talking about García in a pregame Zoom call last August 31st.

“My biggest thing — he moves around pretty good over there — my biggest thing with him is his throwing from shortstop. He’s got a strong enough arm, obviously, but he gets a little erratic. His arm angle changes periodically. So it’s something that we got to work with him over there, and to stay in his legs a little bit better. He throws the ball and he never finishes, never goes towards his target where he’s throwing. He doesn’t use his legs.”

“The biggest issue with Luis at both second and at short, is his feet, and continuing to move his feet,” the manager continued. “His feet got to work,” Martinez added, “... and like I said, it’s a process that we’ve talked to him about, we’re going to continue to work with him, but he’s got to continue to use his feet, and when he does that he’s really good. And he understands it, and it’s just a habit, and we’ve got to break him out of that habit, and we got to get him to use his feet all the time.”

So, we were a bit surprised to hear what Martinez said about the plans for García this spring when he spoke to reporters for the first time from West Palm Beach yesterday.

“I saw Luis García come in here today, and he looked great, lost a lot of weight, he looks like he’s in really good shape, so that’s good,” the manager said.

MLB Washington Nationals Spring Training Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“We talked a lot with him about his agility and slimming down a little bit, and he took it to heart and he looks unbelievable, so looking forward to watching him play and seeing where he’s at.”

And when asked where García would take most of his grounders in Spring Training, he said that he’ll get a lot of work at short.

“Actually, I want him to play shortstop and second base,” Martinez said. “But we want him to play some shortstop.

“We got [Alcides] Escobar over there, we got César [Hernández] at second [base], so I want [García] to really focus on playing some shortstop, and then we’ll see how he does.”

With multiple players who can play multiple positions in the middle of the infield, Martinez said, they’ll be moving around quite a bit while he sees what he has on this year’s roster as he makes sure everyone is ready to go following the lockout and late start this spring.

“I fear with some of these guys that we really got to make sure their arms are in good shape before we start bouncing them all over, so we just want to get their feet underneath them, like I said, we’ll put Luis [García] at shortstop for now and let him take his ground balls, and once we feel comfortable that he’s ready to move around, we’ll start moving these guys around.”