PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - If you’ve watched Stephen Strasburg pitch enough, you’re aware of the fact that he can be one of his toughest opponents.
The Nationals right-hander is so competitive and gets so amped up for big starts that he can end up fighting himself on the mound, resulting in stretches where he overthrows and loses his effectiveness.
You can understand, then, why Strasburg was, as he put it, “really geeked up” for this afternoon’s spring training opener. Not only was it his first start of spring, but it was his first time taking the mound since Sept. 7 of last year, after which the Nationals shut him down due to a predetermined innings limit.
Strasburg threw 31 pitches in the first inning today, allowing two runs on three hits. He didn’t have great command of his fastball, which he leaned on heavily, but settled down eventually, throwing a perfect second inning and getting through a successful 2013 spring debut.
“A bit of a debacle in the first inning, but it seems like that’s just what happens for me every spring training,” Strasburg said. “It’s going to take a little while for me to get a little more comfortable, a little better rhythm out there. I was just glad I was able to get back feeling right in the second (inning).”
Ask Strasburg what exactly didn’t feel right in the first inning, and he’ll rattle off a brief list of things that affected him.
The right-hander kept catching his right cleat on the rubber when going into his windup. He felt like he was falling forward too quickly, forcing his arm to come through and try and catch up to his body and resulting in pitches that were yanked to the left side of the plate.
And then there’s that adrenaline factor, something that plagues Strasburg every year during his first time back in game action.
“I get the adrenaline going, and as much as I try and tell myself to slow down, I just can’t.” Strasburg said. “... We threw two bullpens and a live BP (so far this spring), and that doesn’t even compare to getting out there in a game for the first time, after a much longer offseason for me. The same thing happened last year, and it’s just going to be a steady progression getting ready and getting more comfortable commanding my pitches out there throughout spring training.”
Things settled down for Strasburg significantly in the second inning. He needed just 11 pitches to retire John Buck, Justin Turner and Jordany Valdespin, appearing calmer and mixing in three curveballs to complement a fastball that topped out at 96 mph on the stadium radar gun.
“I threw a couple good breaking balls there in the second inning,” Strasburg said. “My fastball command got better, sinker seemed to be working pretty well. Probably throw it a little more next time. But it was a good first outing.”
Of the 31 pitches Strasburg threw in the first inning, 28 were fastballs.
“First time out, especially with the extended spring training, they pretty much just said, ‘Just work on your fastball command and you know they’re going to be up there hacking, especially first day,’ ” he said. “They’re going to see a lot of fastballs, it’s just kind of wearing it and just trying to not really worry about the hits you give up and everything. Just trying to get the command going, first thing.”
Strasburg seemed upbeat after his outing, willing to take the positives out of his two innings instead of focusing on the two-run homer he allowed to the light-hitting Ruben Tejada or the eight-pitch battle with Marlon Byrd that resulted in a double to right-center.
He knows the adrenaline will drop a notch or two his next time out, and he’s learning that early in spring, the results don’t matter much, even if you feel a good part of your start was a debacle.