Strasburg ready to deal with the emotion of his first playoff start

Happy postseason, folks.

Playoff baseball officially started three days ago. Nationals players and fans have had to wait patiently for their time to come, but we're now just a few hours away from the start of the National League Division Series and Stephen Strasburg's first pitch.

It won't just be Strasburg's first pitch of this postseason, of course. It'll be the first playoff start of his career, the first time he's taken to a big league mound in October. And there's a lot of pressure that comes with that, both outside pressure and pressure that Strasburg might be putting on himself.

Postseason baseball is a different animal. The stakes are obviously much higher than a normal regular season start. The crowd is louder. There are more people watching. And that can lead to nerves, to a lack of execution if a player is too caught up in the moment.

strasburg-wide-pitching-red-sidebar.jpgSo how is Strasburg approaching today's start against the Giants, given he's never experienced the postseason before? He says he's spent some time talking to guys who have been there before, pitchers who have experienced this stage, trying to pick up some tips from them.

"Obviously this is brand new for me," Strasburg said. "They all say it's just still the same game. You've still got to go out there and focus on the things that you can control, and that's making sure that before you throw each pitch, that you're locked in and you know what you want to do with it. This game is funny, so you've just really got to keep your composure and you've got to keep dialing in."

I recently talked Doug Fister, who has made eight career postseason starts (including one in the World Series) and made the playoffs each of the last three years, about the postseason stage and all that comes with it.

Fister said that it's natural for a pitcher to feel extra energy in these starts, to feel the extra pressure. But the more he's able to limit the emotion and just view it as a normal start, the better off he'll be.

"I think the biggest thing was the fact that we tried to simplify everything as much as possible and really just take it back to a regular season game," Fister said. "Yeah, OK, it's more exciting. More fans there, typically. There's obviously a little more weight involved in each game, but you have to take the mentality out there that it is just another 162-game season type of game, in respects of doing your job.

"I go out there and make a pitch each time, and you need to focus on that instead of, 'I need to go six innings, I need to go seven innings.' Whatever. Just really simplifying it, and that's what makes it simple in the fact of trying to deal with things."

It might sound overly straightforward. It might be boring. But Fister says if you can fight the emotion, if you can avoid feeling more wound-up or anxious than in a normal start, you'll be fine, even under the postseason lights.

"As soon as you take the mentality that I'm better when I play loose and free than when I'm under pressure and are able to relax your system, then it's so much easier from there," Fister said.

That will be Strasburg's goal this afternoon. He'll be going against Jake Peavy, who has made five career postseason starts and pitched in a World Series last year. He'll be facing a tough, playoff-tested Giants lineup.

But if Strasburg can follow Fister's advice and simplify things as much as possible, he should be able to battle the emotion of the moment and just allow himself to pitch.

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