With Stephen Strasburg signing a new deal to remain with the Nationals for the remainder of his career, it is interesting to look back and see how far the hard-throwing right-hander has come since the day he was drafted in 2010.
General manager Mike Rizzo has had a front row seat to see how Strasburg has evolved over the years in his quiet, unassuming way into a leader in the clubhouse.
Strasburg was selected first in June 2009 to be a part of a hopeful turnaround for the Nats, who had lost 205 games from 2008-2009.
“When we scouted him as a starting pitcher at San Diego State, we realized that this was a special talent, had a lot of gifts, his repertoire was great,” Rizzo said. “He had the size, the delivery and stuff to be an elite major league starter. But what we found over the years is that he’s a better teammate and a better man than he is a pitcher, and he’s a pretty damn good pitcher. I admire the way he gets after it.”
Strasburg believes one of the main reasons for his return to D.C. is those teammates that he works with day in and day out. He has matured as a player and as a teammate but fights to pitch well because of those clubhouse relationships.
“To be honest, throughout my career, I’m so fortunate to have the backing of the team, the ownership,” Strasburg said at the recent news conference to announce his new deal with the club. “They’ve made it very clear they wanted me to be a part of this organization moving forward. And throughout the course of my career, there’s been some ups and downs, but they’ve supported me throughout it all. I think that’s hard to come by in this game. I think it’s just creating an environment that I can thrive in and achieve what I wanted to do on the field and off the field as well.”
Rizzo believes with players like Max Scherzer and Strasburg as their main anchors, the clubhouse has been able to grow in strength, benefiting younger players like Victor Robles and Juan Soto. Having players like Strasburg here for at least seven more seasons makes the Nats an attractive free agent destination.
“The culture is here. It’s been here for a long, long term,” said Rizzo. “I think that this is a winning organization. We’ve won a lot of games, we’ve won a World Series and we’ve won playoff games now. We’ve felt good about this culture throughout. I think that with the core players in that clubhouse, the culture’s not going to change for a negative. It’s only going to get better. With the type of personalities in that clubhouse, I think the culture portion of it is safe because the character portion of it is safe in the clubhouse.”
On Strasburg and the team, Rizzo said: “This thing, it takes a village. It took Stras, it takes Max, it took a bunch of guys to come together. When everybody was shoveling dirt on us this year, they proved that, if you believe in yourself, you could do special things. And I think he epitomizes that.”
Strasburg understands that the younger players are affected by the way the veterans act in the clubhouse and on the field. And he joked that he’s been here so long that maybe some of the new fans didn’t see him play when he first arrived.
“I’ve been around here long enough to know that a lot of the young kids don’t even know who I am,” Strasburg said. “They know who Trea Turner is. They know who Juan Soto is. But I think as much as the Nats fans who have been here since day, (the ones that) have grown up with the organization and continued to pass the tradition down to their kids, that’s something you want to be a part of. That’s something that’s really cool.
“It’s great for me to say that I’m going to be a National for life, but for my kids to be here too and experience being Nationals for life, that’s something I’m really fortunate with. They’re in such a great position here to thrive. My oldest just started school, and she’s loving every minute of it. It’s definitely a benefit.”
I spoke with Strasburg back at the beginning of his 2019 campaign about how he has been developing as a multi-faceted pitcher and mixing his pitches more than maybe he did when he first arrived.
The 14-strikeout 2010 debut was sensational. But Strasburg is much more of a craftsman instead of a flamethrower. That was demonstrated for the world to see in his recent World Series MVP performance.
“Yeah, that felt like a long time ago,” Strasburg said of the June 2010 debut. “I think I’ve become more aware of the thoughts in the past. Back then, I was just so young and dumb, like, yeah, this is really cool and you have all this adrenaline and stuff, and maybe the pressure isn’t quite there because you think OK, this is your first outing, it can go any different way.
“But I think you realize quickly in this game that it’s not as hard to get here, it’s significantly harder to get here and stay at a high level. That will always be the challenge, and continue to be the challenge, what adjustments are necessary to continue to perform at a high level. Having a great support system here is key. Having Max here, Aníbal Sánchez that we brought in here, (Patrick) Corbin, (pitching coach) Paul Menhart - the group of people that I’m able to be around helps me achieve that, helps me focus on what I can do to continue to be successful.”