WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Like Max Scherzer the previous day, Stephen Strasburg threw 56 pitches during his bullpen session Friday morning. Like Scherzer, he felt perfectly normal. Like Scherzer, this winter and spring really won’t be all that different from prior ones, despite all the extra pitches Strasburg threw last fall.
“I mean, you try and take the same amount of time off, and then you get right back into it and treat it like another routine,” the right-hander said. “So I got the normal amount of bullpens I normally do before camp. Felt good today.”
If you’re among those who buy into the narrative that the Nationals pitching staff is going to suffer this year from the heavy workload it experienced during its World Series run, Scherzer and Strasburg are here to tell you it won’t be true. Time will tell, of course, if they’re actually right about this. But so far, the Nationals’ aces insist all systems are go for a typical 2020 season on the heels of their historic 2019 season.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be some bumps along the way. But neither pitcher is worried about handling it when it does happen.
“You listen to your body, but it’s a fine line,” Strasburg said. “I kind of don’t really like people asking me how I’m feeling. Because it doesn’t matter, you know? It doesn’t matter in October. So you kind of have to get used to learning to listen to your body but know when to push, when to scale back and just try and ride the wave of the season.”
Strasburg certainly rode a giant wave last season. He won a career-high 18 games. He pitched a league-high 209 innings. He struck out a career-high 251 batters. Then he became the first pitcher in major league history to go 5-0 in the postseason, ultimately winning World Series MVP honors.
All of this led to some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities during the offseason. Strasburg appreciated them all. But it was the little moments, the mundane ones, that meant the most to him.
“There was a lot of really cool things,” he said, “but I think for me it was getting a chance to take my daughter to kindergarten every morning and just being a normal dad.”
* Mike Rizzo, during a nearly 30-minute session with reporters Friday, voiced his strong opinion on the Astros’ cheating scandal and subsequent handling of it. He discussed his club’s biggest question of this spring: The search for a new third baseman. And he discussed his own status within the organization, given that his current contract expires at the end of the season.
Rizzo, whose last deal (two years, $8 million) made him one of the highest-paid general managers in baseball when he signed it in April 2018, expressed confidence he and the Lerner family will come to terms on a new contract at some point.
“We never worry about that stuff,” he said. “I’ve been with ownership ... I was the first employee they ever signed (after purchasing the team in 2006). And I’m confident we’re still in good shape with each other.”
* Jeremy Hellickson, who spent the last two seasons pitching for the Nationals, announced his retirement Friday at 32.
Hellickson told the Des Moines Register, his hometown paper, he had recently suffered a setback with his shoulder that would have required surgery. Rather than deal with the long rehab process necessary to come back, he decided to call it a career now.
The right-hander was a surprisingly effective No. 5 starter for the Nationals in 2018, posting a 3.45 ERA in 19 starts and surrendering more than three earned runs only once. Hoping to recapture that form last season, he struggled to a 6.23 ERA in nine games (eight starts) before landing on the injured list with a shoulder injury. He never made it back to the mound, but he was on the active roster in September and was with the team throughout its postseason run.
Hellickson wound up 76-75 with a 4.13 ERA over a 10-year career that began with the American League Rookie of the Year award for the Rays and a World Series title for the Nationals.