To prepare for this season, his first full campaign after Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery, Stephen Strasburg started a little later than usual, ramped up his weight lifting for strength and his running for endurance. He took a page from the past, returning to the yoga poses he practiced while in college at San Diego State University, to increase his flexibility and facilitate quicker recovery.
None of that will change the path the Nationals will push the right-hander down ever so carefully in 2012, an innings limit designed to protect his surgically repaired right elbow with an eye to his future as the staff ace.
And that’s perfectly fine with Strasburg, an ultra-competitive sort who many were expecting to try to cajole a few more innings out of the team.
“I’m going to go out until they take the ball out of my hands,” Strasburg said during an eight-minute session with reporters on Sunday, when pitchers and catchers reported to Space Coast Stadium for the start of spring training.
How many innings Strasburg will pitch, when he’ll make his first start, how the Nationals will maximize his innings - all are to be determined. It is believed that Strasburg will work about the same amount that right-hander Jordan Zimmermann did last season in his first full campaign after a similar operation. Zimmermann pitched 161 1/3 innings, four outs more than the 160 innings that were anticipated as a maximum.
Strasburg wants to take the ball every five days and he hopes to be the kind of pitcher who can, when necessary, pitch on three days’ rest. The former will happen until he maxes out whatever limit the Nats set for him; the latter is probably more long-range thinking but a worthy goal.
“That’s what I expect of myself,” he said. “I’m going to go out there and answer the bell every time out.”
In short, the guy with electric stuff who mesmerized baseball in 2010 before blowing out his elbow wants to be just another pitcher on a markedly improved staff.
“I don’t want the special treatment,” Strasburg said. “I want to go out there when they tell me to go out there and pitch, I’m going to pitch and give it everything I have. When they say I’m done, I’m going to be done.”
Strasburg will probably speak with Zimmermann a lot this year, so he can get a first-hand account of what he might be facing. Zimmermann will offer him everything from the whimsical - “It’s going to get pretty boring the last month,” he offered - to the obvious - “I’m sure he’s expecting to get shut down at 160; they’re not going to push him to 180, I think.”
Trying to talk his way into a few more innings? Forget about it, Zimmermann said.
“I wanted to, but I knew I probably wouldn’t change their mind at all. ... It was pretty strict and set in stone that 160 was going to be the limit,” Zimmermann said. “I guess they let me go over an inning or so.”
Strasburg has been happy with how he’s felt during his offseason throwing program. Forced or not, the time off seems to have helped.
“You go out there and throw and it feels so much more natural now than it did coming off of the surgery,” he said. “My mind’s a lot clearer. I just go out there and throw the baseball. I don’t think about, as much, mechanics or anything. I don’t feel myself holding back a little bit. I just let it go.”
“It’s not so much that it didn’t feel natural. When you’re in a game setting, with the adrenaline and stuff, you’re just raring back and firing it. I think it was more on the mental side, not necessarily bracing for it - just kind of that little thing in the back of your head when you’re throwing the pitch. It’s like, ‘Is everything right?’ Now there’s no second thoughts at all. ... It feels more natural now than it did coming right off the surgery.”