Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo explained to 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s The Sports Junkies earlier this month, that the lockout which lasted 99 days between early December and mid-March, while Major League Baseball and the MLBPA worked out a new collective-bargaining agreement, kept the club and its players from talking about how things were progressing in terms of offseason work to prepare for the 2022 campaign, whenever it began, and when they had a date, and three weeks to get ready for a full regular season, things were slightly chaotic.
“In general, pitchers need more than three weeks to prepare for a 162-game season,” Rizzo explained before the season opener.
“That’s always — Spring Training is really built for the pitchers. In a normal Spring Training you have 5 1/2, six weeks to prepare pitchers and you build them up to get to their 100-105 pitches to start Opening Day, and I just think when you condense it to three weeks, you’re really banking on players to have been doing their strict Spring Training preparation regimen on their own, and I just think it’s unfair.”
There was a lot of catching up to do when everyone in the Nationals’ organization gathered in West Palm Beach, Florida once a new CBA was in place.
“We had no access to players,” Rizzo continued, “to their health, how they’re feeling, what they’re going through in this preparation, ramping up to Spring Training, so when Spring Training did start in earnest, some people got out of the chute well and went too fast and we had to slow them back down, and some people started slowly and are progressing at their normal rate, but not at the rate where they’re stretched out for a typical beginning of the season.”
One of the players who went too fast and had to slow down was Stephen Strasburg, the 33-year-old, 12-year veteran, whose 13th big league campaign will start at some point this year, when he feels ready to return after making just seven starts and throwing 26 2⁄3 innings over the last two seasons as he’s battled injuries and undergone season-ending surgeries in each — for carpal tunnel neuritis in 2020 and thoracic outlet syndrome last summer.
“Stras came into the shortened Spring Training in Spring Training-prepared-to-pitch mode,” Rizzo said, “... and he was one of those guys I was speaking about. He got out of the chute really fast, and then we had to slow him down, because it was too fast ... and too short of a situation, but he’s throwing. He stayed back in Florida, he’s working really hard in Florida to get him stretched out.
“He feels good, we’ve done a good job with the pitching coaches, and our pitching analysts to tweak his delivery and get him in a comfortable delivery mode where it takes pressure off his arm, and he’s feeling good about it.”
The tweak he mentioned was a move back to a full(er) delivery, after Strasburg pitched out of the stretch exclusively for years.
With the injuries he’s dealt with the last two years, following the club and their 2009 No. 1 overall pick’s run to the World Series championship in 2019, Strasburg said he wanted the time he needed to prepare for a season, so he and the organization decided to let him get ready to return at his own pace.
Davey Martinez, the team’s fifth-year manager, talked before Wednesday’s game against the Miami Marlins about the process starting over again for Strasburg, who threw bullpens over the first weeks of Spring Training, and faced hitters, but has essentially started over again.
“He just — he felt like his mechanics were off,” Martinez said. “He wanted to back off a little bit, so we let him do that, and then we decided that the best thing for him is just to bring him slowly. Like I’ve said, this has been two years removed for him, and when we get him back I want him back. I don’t want to have him having to think about his mechanics, his arm slot, where he’s landing, all that stuff. I want him to come back crisp, everything clean, and be ready to pitch and give us as many innings as he possibly can give us, without any setbacks. That’s the plan. And so far ... it’s taken a little longer, but we’re going to do it the right way, not only for us, but for Stephen as well. And he’s been on board. And he’s been really good.
“So hopefully he continues to progress and we can get him back here as soon as possible.”
And he’s still pitching from the wind-up? “He’s still trying to pitch out of a wind-up, yeah,” Martinez said. “He’s trying to get some more out of his legs that way.”