Teammates and coaches remember Strasburg's career

After a long delay while working out the financial details of his contract, Stephen Strasburg’s retirement became official Saturday night per the Nationals’ official transactions page, with the right-hander and the team releasing statements Sunday morning.

Although this announcement has been a long time coming, the finality of the official release made for an emotional morning yesterday at Nationals Park as former teammates, coaches and front office members reflected on the right-hander’s career.

The roster looks a lot different from the last time Strasburg stepped into the clubhouse back in 2022 when he was trying to revitalize his career while coming back from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. But there are still a handful of familiar faces around.

“You look back at his career and how special of a player he was. He's a huge part of why I decided to come here,” said Patrick Corbin, who was Strasburg’s teammate for four years after signing with the Nats as a free agent ahead of the 2019 season. “Hopefully, he and his family are happy now, and he can move on with life and be with his family, which I know he wants to be. So you just feel for somebody like that who was such a good player for a long time. Just unfortunate with the injuries and some setbacks, but he tried everything to come back and be part of this team. Things just didn't work out.”

Strasburg hasn’t been able to pitch since June 9, 2022, when he made his only major league start that season while giving up seven runs in 4 ⅔ innings against the Marlins. After he was unable to fully overcome thoracic outlet syndrome, he finally admitted last year that a return to the mound wouldn’t be possible.

“Obviously, he had an incredible career,” said catcher Riley Adams. “I grew up watching Stras dominate San Diego from high school to San Diego State and onward. Stras has certainly meant a lot for San Diego and I know he's obviously meant a lot for the Nationals. I still reflect on being the last guy to catch him a couple of years ago. Certainly, it's tough that that was his last start, but I wish him nothing but the best. I hope he's healthy and I hope he's enjoying retirement.”

Indeed, Adams was behind the plate for that final start in Miami, his first and only time catching his hometown hero. Even though he didn’t know it at the time, the young backstop appreciated the chance he got to work with Strasburg.

“That was obviously my first and only time working with him,” Adams said. “But he's meticulous about everything. One of the hardest workers I've ever seen just in the short stint that I've seen. I can only imagine how he was every other outing he was out. He was very specific about what he wanted, very meticulous. He's a bulldog. I wish that start would have gone a little differently. I know that wasn't one of his better ones, but he's a hard working dude.”

Although Strasburg hasn't been around much since 2019 (he only pitched 31 ⅓ innings over eight starts after being named the 2019 World Series MVP), he has still left a lasting impression on the young pitchers he encountered over the later years of his career.

“I'm just happy that we're able to celebrate his incredible career,” said reliever Kyle Finnegan, who joined the Nationals ahead of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. “I look forward to seeing him and just giving them a big hug and telling him thank you for everything he's given to this organization and the league as a whole. He had one of the most amazing debuts in history and went on to have an amazing career. The short time that we were together, I learned a lot from him just watching him go about his business and just being a consummate professional. And I wish him the best, him and his family, moving forward.”

Selected by the Nats with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Strasburg burst onto the major league scene a year later with his 14-strikeout debut over seven innings against the Pirates, jump starting a career full of highlights.

“Anytime you have a hyped prospect like that, so few of them live up to the hype,” Finnegan said. “And he was one that I think surpassed the hype. Drafted in this organization and it's hard enough to debut with the team you're drafted by, let alone go out there and strike out 14 in your first game. So I think the city rallied behind him and he was a huge piece in building a championship team.”

Strasburg finishes his career with 247 starts across parts of 13 seasons, going 113-62 with a 3.24 ERA and 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings. He was a three-time All-Star, and received Cy Young votes three times (with two top-five finishes) and MVP votes once.

Along the way, he was a part of some of the best starting rotations in the sport, joined by the likes of Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Patrick Corbin. The rotation, Strasburg’s skillset and the Nationals' winning ways were all attractive points for prospective free agents.

“A little bit of all that,” Corbin said of his reasoning to sign with the Nats. “To have Scherzer and him in a rotation, that was something that I wanted to be a part of. Obviously, the team around that was very talented, but that was definitely a huge reason why I wanted to come here and to be part of that rotation. I think pitching definitely helps win. It makes things a little bit easier on a team, so that's something I always remember. That rotation that season was special and that team as well.”

Even former teammates who haven’t been with the Nats for a long time appreciate what Strasburg meant to this team and city.

“I've always said if there's one game I gotta win, I'd probably take Stras just because of the way he pitches, especially in that 2019 run that you guys had,” said Bryce Harper, the Nats’ No. 1 overall pick in 2010 who would be Strasburg’s teammate for seven years before leaving in free agency for the Phillies in 2019. “Like I said, the way he threw in the playoffs, and I mean his changeup was electric, his fastball obviously, curveball. But you just look back and see how good he was throwing strikes and just everything he went through. And for him to be able to come back from Tommy John and kind of pitch through that as well. And incredible person as well. I always enjoyed being around Stras. Great family. And I just wish him the best.”

But even as former teammates celebrate Strasburg’s accomplishments, they can’t help but feel sorry for the competitor that’s leaving the game too soon.

“It hurts, man. It hurts,” said Sean Doolittle, a teammate of Strasburg's over parts of five seasons from 2017-22. “And I think the thing that hurts for me watching it is people want to have an opinion on it. They want to say stuff about his contract. They want to say stuff about his body. And it's like first of all, we don't get to pick our connective tissue. He worked so hard, and he got every last drop out of his body and he's gonna have some complication for the rest of his life because of what he did on a daily basis for this organization in this uniform.

“As far as the contract, that's none of anybody's business. That's the business side of the game. There's an inherent risk on both sides when two sides come to an agreement on a deal. But he's coming off a World Series MVP and one of the best seasons of his career so at the time, like whatever. He deserved it. He deserved it. I think going back all things being equal, it didn't work out, but it wasn't for a lack of effort. You know what I mean? On his part, he's one of the hardest workers I've ever been around and one of the best teammates. So I hope people today with this news, I hope people remember who he was, what he meant to this organization, the pitcher that he was, because he was one of the best to ever wear this uniform.”

“It's sad. It really is,” said Davey Martinez, Strasburg's manager since 2018. “But it's a decision that as a player you have to make. And he made that decision. But I'm not gonna remember him as being injured. I'm gonna remember him, as we all should, for what he did and what he did for this organization. Like I said, he had an incredible run, so he should be proud of that. I know I am.”

“The ending is something that nobody could foresee,” said Mike Rizzo, the Nats president and general manager who scouted, drafted and developed Strasburg. “But I don't remember the ending, I remember the journey and the culmination when he got in that Corvette when he won the MVP of the World Series.”

Now that the announcement is official, Strasburg’s first public appearance at Nationals Park in nearly two years may come later this month during the five-year anniversary celebration of the 2019 World Series championship when the Astros come to D.C. And at some point in the future, he is expected to have his own day to celebrate his career in front of former teammates, coaches and fans, similar to Ryan Zimmerman’s celebration in 2022.

“I think it's gonna be an emotional day for everybody,” said Rizzo. “Like I said, he's one of the icons of the Nationals franchise and it's gonna be a special day just like Zim's was. Those guys that are on the Mount Rushmore of the Nationals, those are kind of the moments you wait for.”

“I can't say enough about what Stephen has meant to this organization, to the fans and most of all to me,” Martinez said. “We were together, and we did something special together. He was a horse out there on the mound. Not every day he felt good, but every five days, he would take the ball and give you everything he had no matter what. That's what I know about Stephen. He was an incredible competitor. Sometimes off the field as well. He was unbelievable. And I love the guy. All-Star, World Series MVP. He did a lot and did a lot for this game. So I'm super proud to have him, super proud to know him.

“Now he gets to move on and do something else in his life. And that's what he chose to do unfortunately. I'm sure he would have loved to pitch for us more, but under the circumstances, he couldn't. But man, he gave it everything he had. I was here with them when he was struggling with the injury and the surgeries. He really worked hard to try to come back and he just couldn't do it. So I wish him and his family all the best. I'm sure I'll reach out to him in the next few days and just thank him again for everything he's done. He's had an incredible career.”

Rizzo wouldn’t discuss the financial details of the agreement between the Nationals and Strasburg, who is still owed a little more than $100 million over the next three years, but the longtime GM did say he was glad the process is over and both sides can move forward.

“He's part of the furniture here,” Rizzo said. “He always will be and always has been. We just want him to be happy and for this thing to work out the way it did. So to me, it wasn't a matter of if, it was a matter of just when we can get this thing finished.”

Now all there is left to do is celebrate Strasburg the player and the person who has meant so much to the Nationals and the Washington, D.C. sports scene. And as we wait for that celebration day, we’ll hopefully see how involved the lifelong National will be going forward with the only organization he’s ever known.

“So many memories of Stras,” Rizzo said. “He's on the Mount Rushmore of Nationals and one of the great players that we've ever had. He was the guy that put us on the map, not only we drafted him and signed him at the last second, but when he made his debut out here. And that just transferred throughout his career with the Nats. When he was on the mound, he was as good a pitcher as anybody in baseball ever. And unfortunately, for him and for us, it wasn't as much as we wanted it to be. But one of the great pitchers of all time and we'll remember that '19 when he kinda carried us on his back.

“It was an honor. It was an honor and a privilege to be around him as much as I have. I saw every start he ever had. And it was something that the ride was immense. It was immense and it was amazing.”

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