Stephen Strasburg went 2 2⁄3 innings on 61 pitches in his return to live game action with the Single-A Fredericksburg Nationals on Tuesday night, with the 33-year-old, 2009 No. 1 overall pick (and 2019 World Series MVP) giving up three hits and three runs while striking out four.
While the unfortunate news for Joe Ross, (who felt tightness in his right elbow and went for an MRI after his 2022 debut in a rehab start of his own), got the headlines yesterday, it was positive news for Strasburg following his initial outing this year, as he rehabs from surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome he underwent last summer.
While his command wasn’t necessarily there in his first rehab start, GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday morning it was a positive step for the 12-year veteran as he works towards his first start in his 13th season in the majors.
“First time on the mound in a long time and against opposing hitters, and Stras is such a touch/feel guy with great command, and if his command is off a little bit, so be it,” Rizzo explained.
This guy is pretty good at this pitching thing pic.twitter.com/h1sXiU0UbA— Fredericksburg Nationals (@FXBGNats) May 25, 2022
What sort of Strasburg are we going to see if/when he’s back on the mound in the majors?
Since 2019, the righty has made just seven starts and thrown 26 2⁄3 innings for the Nationals after signing a 7-year/$245M free agent deal following a brief time on the market in the days after the club’s World Series win.
He’s made adjustments before, but after carpal tunnel neuritis shut him down in 2020, and the TOS surgery last year, what’s he working with these days?
“We’ve seen Stras over the years — he came in and he was throwing 100, you know what I mean?” Rizzo told the Junkies. “And after Tommy John and after some other elbow issues, he kind of settled in in that 93-96 range, where he can go get a 96 if he needs to, but you saw in 2019 he doesn’t need to be that big, fastballs type of guy any more. He’s got plus- plus command and as good a curveball and changeup as there is in the business, and really he can move the fastball to all four quadrants, so he’s a guy who will rely less and less on big velocity than most pitchers at his stage in his career.”
As Rizzo acknowledged when both Will Harris and then Strasburg were diagnosed with TOS last season, he didn’t have much history with the injury, or rehab from the surgery, but it is, he said, similar to recovery from other surgeries in that the command of one’s pitches is the last thing to return as you work your way back.
“Well, I think touch and feel, which coincides with command, is the last thing to come,” Rizzo said.
“You know we’re going to build up their pitch count and their durability and their velocity, and then [they] need to get a feel to get hitters out, and movement on your pitches, and spin rate on your curveball and tumble rate on your changeup and that type of thing, so I think that at his point we feel good about Stras’s start, you know, 2 2⁄3 or three innings, and we’ll build from there and try to get him to somewhere around 90-100 pitches and see how he feels and get him to the big leagues and get him in the rotation. And that’s the plan for him.
Now, Rizzo added, it’s about moving from preparation mode to game mode. The next step?
If he came through the first outing feeling good, the next step will be another start every five days till he’s ready to pitch in the majors.
“Stephen, completed his 60 pitches, 2 2⁄3 , the good news is he felt good,” Nats’ manager Davey Martinez told reporters before Wednesday’s series finale with the LA Dodgers in D.C.
“He’s sore today, but it’s typical soreness, but he’ll get ready to throw again in five days.”
Victor Robles Returns To Lineup:
Victor Robles left Monday’s series opener with a right calf cramp after coming on late as a sub, but he was back in there for Wednesday afternoon’s series finale after Davey Martinez told reporters late on Tuesday night, after the second straight loss to the Dodgers in D.C., that his center fielder had been available if needed.
“He was available, yeah. I’m going to look at some stuff tonight, as soon as we get back in there, but I think he’s going to play center field tomorrow,” Martinez said.
Robles, 24, tested the calf out before the third of three with the Dodgers, and was good to go.
“He ran, he hit a lot,” Martinez said, “and him and [Hitting Coach] Darnell [Coles] continue to work on his hitting a little bit, but he ran, and he ran fine, he was available yesterday in case we needed him, so he’s back in there today.”
Following a solid run at the plate during the Nationals’ road trip to San Francisco, Colorado, and Anaheim, on which he went 10 for 27 (.370/.419/.444) with two doubles and two walks in nine games and 33 plate appearances, Robles cooled off, going 5 for 23, (.217/.280/.217) with five singles and a walk in nine games and 26 PAs.
“We’re trying to get him consistent now, right,” Martinez said on Wednesday afternoon.
“We felt we had him in a good spot on that one road trip, and now we’re trying to get him back there. But he’s working diligently, like I said, we made some adjustments mechanically, trying to get him to stay on the baseball and use the whole field, and just play the game the way we see fit for him. He’s made some nice bunts, he’s trying to get on base, we got to get him to play consistent defense, and run the bases correctly. So, we got to remember, he’s still really young, so we’re going to keep working with him and hopefully he gets better.”