Washington Nationals All-Star Stephen Strasburg pitched out of the stretch his entire Grapefruit League debut. He likes it and that is good.
What is a surprise is Strasburg pitched out of the stretch position with the bases empty. In a 23-pitch, two-strikeout effort, he never used a full windup. Get used to it.
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"“I’m not trying to reinvent myself. But I’m trying to simplify things as much as I can.”"
Strasburg’s injury problems are well known. Aside from one Tommy John surgery, he missed the playoffs last year with a flexor mass strain in his right elbow. A winter of rest and strength exercises followed before tossing to live hitters last week in a team scrimmage.
With all the added pressure the Nats feel to advance in the postseason, Strasburg feels it most. Friday’s debut marked the first start under his new seven-year contract worth $175 million. It is time to silence the doubters.
Pitchers who have come back from Tommy John are experimenting with throwing only from the stretch. Texas Ranger ace Yu Darvish does it with success.
Why does Strasburg like it? He tells Castillo:
"“I feel like as I’ve gotten older, for whatever reason, the windup’s just been an issue as far as getting that right feeling of staying on the mound, not drifting too much towards first or third base side on my leg kick and sticking the landing a little better.”"
If it makes him feel more comfortable and confident then why not.
When healthy, Strasburg is one of the top pitchers in Major League Baseball. He won his first 14 decisions last year before the elbow problems crept in. Three years ago, he led the National League in strikeouts with 242 and posted an ERA of 3.14.
For his career, his Adjusted ERA+ IS 124. Strasburg’s collective ERA is 24 percent better than league average over the last seven years. He strikes out roughly five hitters for every walk allowed and has a consistent career WHIP of 1.094.
That is now in the past. With his new deal, and high expectations for the team, he must stay healthy while throwing quality starts every fifth day. If Strasburg feels better throwing out of the stretch—a position jarring for us to see with the bases empty—then so be it.
From his performance and conversation with Castillo, Strasburg gives every sign of being confident with the changes and himself. The key will be how the arm feels when he works the slider in more.
The best thing he can do for his durability is keep the pitch count down. His 23 from Friday is great. If he can get out and back under 15 an inning, Strasburg will save on wear and tear along with putting the Nats in shape to win.
And that is a good thing.