SAN DIEGO - The bullpen session Stephen Strasburg threw at Petco Park on Friday was nothing out of the ordinary - the 22-year-old threw a steady diet of fastballs from the mound and threw a few changeups while playing catch, all around 50 percent effort, like he’s been doing in his Tommy John rehab.
And the fact he was in San Diego at all was a scheduling quirk; the Nationals’ extended spring training is done, and there’s a break in activity in Viera, Fla., while the Nationals’ Gulf Coast League team gets to town, so Strasburg needed somewhere to throw this week.
But this is still Stephen Strasburg, so nothing is exactly normal. When he got on the mound at Petco Park on Friday, pitching off the mound there for the first time since an April 3, 2009 game during his junior year at San Diego State, MLB Network’s ballpark camera picked it up and beamed it out to the world, almost like a viral video for an upcoming action film. Strasburg said hello to his teammates, slipped out of the stadium and left to enjoy his hometown well before reporters could attempt to talk to him, but not before he’d given the Nationals a little taste of what to anticipate when he returns from Tommy John surgery.
“When you take time off from throwing, sure, at first it’s going to be a little bit different,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “That’s the process of just playing catch and getting used to it. He’s done a great job at that, because he’s very conscious of what he wants to do. This kid’s pretty special. He’s not just a guy that throws hard. He knows exactly what he wants to do.”
McCatty, manager Jim Riggleman and bullpen coach Jim Lett were among those who watched Strasburg throw, and closer Drew Storen said Strasburg was in good spirits in the clubhouse. He’s got several steps left in his throwing program before he could start a rehab assignment - the Nationals continue to be coy about his next steps, but he still hasn’t added his breaking ball back to his repertoire.
McCatty, though, said Strasburg’s mechanics - which were a hot topic this spring following a Sports Illustrated story that suggested the right-hander was at the risk of future injury by throwing the way he does - looked the same, which is exactly what he wanted to see.
“Here’s the idea: When you go through this process, and you’re doing your therapy, the Tommy John, coming back and doing the program everybody does, the idea is you want to repeat the mechanics you had before,” McCatty said. “You stay within yourself. When I say the hard part is the mental part, that’s the toughest thing. Because you feel good, but you’re throwing slower. So it’s always harder to repeat the exact mechanics you’re going to have when you’re letting it go as maximum velocity. That’s what you work on - the timing of it, the stride, the direction, the movement of the hands, all that kind of stuff.”
Strasburg will head back to Florida to continue his rehab once the Nationals’ Gulf Coast League affiliate is ready to go. He might pop up at Petco Park again this weekend, though McCatty - who has said in the past he often struggles to get the reclusive pitcher to return even his calls - didn’t know if he’d see Strasburg.
“And if I did,” McCatty said, “would I tell you?”