VIERA, Fla. - Stephen Strasburg sure looked regular season-ready during today’s 8-1 Nationals win over the Tigers, throwing five scoreless innings, striking out five, working around an error in the first, getting two double play balls and contributing to a runner being cut down on the bases.
Solid day overall.
Anything really left to accomplish at this point for the Nats’ ace before he gets the ball on opening day?
“Definitely just building arm strength and staying where I’m at,” Strasburg said. “I feel like I’m on a good program to where I feel fresh, and I think it’s gonna do well for me this year.”
Strasburg got double play balls in the first and fourth innings, and his quick move to the plate helped catcher Wilson Ramos catch Nick Castellanos trying to steal second in the third inning. A pitcher will have plenty of success if he keeps runners that reach base out of scoring position like that.
“It’s not gonna happen like that every time, but the biggest thing is not letting them get to second or making it harder for them to get there,” Strasburg said. “It’s amazing how it affects the game and how it affects the next pitch and the results.”
“Great catcher back there,” Strasburg said of Ramos. “He’s got a strong arm. I think it’s just our job as pitchers to give him an opportunity. I think more times than not, he’s gonna throw them out.”
Strasburg came into spring training trying to work on varying his times to the plate and handling baserunners better. He’s adjusted his pre-pitch routine when a runner’s on first, turning his left shoulder towards first base and looking over at the runner before he comes to a set position and then trying to monitor the runner better as he prepares to deliver the pitch.
It’s been a process trying to make that process more natural and to mentally focus on holding runners, but Strasburg feels like he’s making progress in that area.
“The biggest for me is just being aware of how far off the bag he is,” he said. “Just being able to identify the leads. Before, I never really had an idea where they were over there. I think just the fact I didn’t know, it sped me up a lot. So I (felt) like I could just be quicker to home plate and it wouldn’t matter. But then they just started getting running leads and just stealing on my time. So especially that I vary my looks, vary my times, pick over, it just keeps them honest. That’s all I’m really trying to do. I don’t have the quickest feet, so I might pick off a guy just on how long I hold the ball, but I’m not gonna pick him off because I’m quick over there.
“I’m always calm, it’s just before, I’d go out and focus too much on the hitter. I think I’m trying to work on being able to see the runner, see where he’s at, being comfortable with how far off he is. If I’m not comfortable with it, making them get a shorter lead. Then baring down and getting focused on the hitter after that instead of focusing on the hitter the entire time.”
“It’s just repetition. I’ve been working on it all offseason, working on it all spring, and it’s becoming more second-nature. I feel like I’m able to execute my pitches better out of the stretch than I was early in spring.”
Manager Matt Williams announced last night that Strasburg will get the opening day start for the Nats for the third straight season. Strasburg was asked if that means much to him outside of it being just another outing.
“Nah, not really,” he said. “I’ve said this before: I hope my career isn’t just reflected on how many opening day starts I have. I think there’s a lot of guys in this rotation that deserve it, and I’m just the first one out. I think every game is going to be just as important. The biggest goal as a team is that we’re playing in the playoffs. I definitely would want to focus on making starts in the playoffs more so than an opening day start.”