Davey Martinez did not try to hide his excitement about Stephen Strasburg returning to the Washington Nationals’ rotation when the manager made the official announcement about it finally happening.
“It’s awesome,” Martinez said. “He’s our guy, right? I mean, everybody knows that, so it will be a little uplifting for the guys knowing that he’s pitching on Thursday.
“I’m just going to go out there and watch him do what he does, and see how he does and see how far he can take us.”
“He’s excited,” Martinez added. “I know we’re excited to have him back. So he’ll be on the mound Thursday.”
Strasburg made three rehab starts, posting a 1.98 ERA (3 ER in 13 2⁄3 IP), two at Single-A in the Nationals’ system and one at Triple-A before the Nationals decided he was ready for a big league start, close to a year after he underwent surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome after his 2020 campaign ended early with surgery for carpal tunnel neuritis. He’s made a total of seven starts in the majors since he helped the club win the World Series in ‘19 and signed a 7-year/$245M free agent deal that winter. So, going in, his manager said, he isn’t putting any expectations or limitations on the now-33-year-old, ‘09 No. 1 overall pick.
“For him, I’m going to take it one pitch at a time, and see where he’s at,” Martinez explained.
“It might be a different discussion in a month, who knows,” he said, “but the good thing is that he feels good, he feels like he’s in a good place, so for now, like I said, Thursday is his day, and we’re going to go with it, and I’m expecting him to go out there and compete.”
“I think a realistic expectation is we want him to be Strasburg,” GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday morning.
“The typical Stephen Strasburg when he’s on the mound, and give us a chance to win the baseball game, and we’ll watch him and monitor him closely as far as stuff and when he wears down and that type of thing, but there will be no restrictions or limitations on him. He’s a healthy pitcher. And we will treat him such as that, but we’ll treat him as a pitcher that is coming off the [Injured] List, and a guy that we’ll monitor very, very closely.
“But we expect him to be himself. His fastball velocity is still coming. His command is good.
“His breaking ball and changeup have obviously been good in his rehab assignments and it will be fun to see him on a big league mound competing in an actual big league game.
“You guys know when he’s on the mound he’s as good as anybody in baseball and has been as good as anybody in baseball, so it will be fun to watch him pitch tomorrow.”
As of the time he spoke on Tuesday afternoon, the Nationals’ skipper hadn’t decided which of his two catchers he’d pair with Strasburg in his first outing of 2022, whether he’ll go with Keibert Ruiz or Riley Adams, the big backup catcher.
“No, I have not. So we’ll see. I’m going to look at the matchups, I know [lefty Trevor] Rogers is pitching [for the Marlins], so I’ll take that into consideration.”
Rizzo addressed the fact some fans would have preferred Strasburg’s first start back be in front of the home crowd, rather than on the road in the Marlins’ park, but he said it was all about the pitcher’s schedule, and nothing else.
“It’s a coincidence,” he said. “It’s just the way his rehab schedule fell. It’s not anything — Stras has pitched in front of 50,000 people in Game 6 of a World Series, so I don’t think he’s worried about his first time back in Nats Park. He’s going to embrace it. He’s going to enjoy it. He’ll love being back with his D.C. fans, and he’ll have one start under his belt when he gets there.”
Martinez, as he said, is going to take it pitch-by-pitch, and one game at a time, as he does at all times, but he did say he thinks his Spring Training suggestion that getting 20-25 starts in for Strasburg this season is not out of the realm of possibility if he’s able to stay healthy.
“Very possible. It really is. Like I said, we’re going to take this still very slow, Thursday is his first day, and I don’t want to look ahead more than that.”