VIERA, Fla. - There isn't a stadium radar gun at Space Coast Stadium, but Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki said he was pretty sure Stephen Strasburg was throwing in the 95-97 mph range today in the right-hander's fourth start of spring.
"Easy," Suzuki said, indicating Strasburg was bringing heat without using much effort. "So easy."
Strasburg dominated through his first five innings of work today before struggling in the sixth. He retired just one of the five hitters he faced in the sixth, but prior to that, had been dealing.
"I thought he pitched good," Suzuki said. "Ball's coming out of his hand good. I thought he kept the ball down in the zone. His misses were down, which was good, and he threw some good breaking balls over for strikes whenever he wanted. A couple good change-ups, basically we just worked in and out with the fastball today, was kind of our main priority. Stras did well."
Strasburg had only pitched out of the stretch to two batters through the first five innings, and he put a large part of the blame for his struggles in the sixth on his inability to find a good feel working from the stretch after putting runners on base.
In that sixth inning, Strasburg allowed a one-out single to Reed Johnson and an infield single to Tyler Pastornicky. He then walked Jordan Schafer to load the bases and Justin Upton's single to left brought in two runs.
Of the 16 runners who tried to steal off Strasburg last season, 14 were successful, leading Strasburg to focus on his work out of the stretch this spring. He's tried to adjust his mechanics and vary his timing to the plate in order to make it tougher for baserunners to get a good read off him, but that's still a bit of a work in progress.
"I changed the way I set up in the stretch and I've kind of gotten in between what I was working on and what I've done in the past," Strasburg said. "So it's just about being comfortable out there and just getting the right feeling. I think early on (today) I had the right feeling, then it started to go away and I was missing more of my spots left and right and not throwing enough strikes.
"It's just trust and taking what you're doing, warming up in the bullpen out there, into the game. My initial reaction is to go back to what I've always done, and that's be close to a second to home plate. And whenever I feel myself speed up, my arm tries to compensate for that and typically either I'm too quick (with) my lower half, and it causes the ball to be elevated. Or I try to play catch up with my arm and I usually throw it in the ground. So it's such a fine line, but I know when it's feeling right, it's there. It's just trying to keep working on it and trust it out there."
Stuff-wise, Strasburg seems to be pleased with how everything feels at this point. He's liked how his change-up has felt for a couple outings now, and every time reporters talk to him after an outing this spring, he seems to be more upbeat about his fastball command and the way his curveball is coming out of his hand.
"The change-up is there. I think when I use it less, it's better," Strasburg said. "Curveball command is a lot better than what it was last year. I'm starting to actually throw it on both sides of the plate. And then you know fastball was pretty much there all day. And sinkers are getting better every time out."