Washington Nationals: Several eyes on Stephen Strasburg this spring

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VIERA, FL - MARCH 11: Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals throws a pitch during the first inning of a spring training game against the New York Mets at Space Coast Stadium on March 11, 2016 in Viera, Florida. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
VIERA, FL - MARCH 11: Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals throws a pitch during the first inning of a spring training game against the New York Mets at Space Coast Stadium on March 11, 2016 in Viera, Florida. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /
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As the Washington Nationals continue to emphasize starting pitching every season, there are going to be a lot of eyes on Stephen Strasburg this spring.

Mike Rizzo’s main mantra with the Washington Nationals has always been consistent, “Pitching is King.” That’s one reason why there have been several eyes fixed on Stephen Strasburg during Spring Training so far.

The right-hander is coming off of one of his worst seasons as a pro where he went 10-7 with a 3.74 ERA. But perhaps most notably, he suffered from diminished velocity at the end of last season after he returned from a cervical nerve impingement.

In his last eight starts, his fastball averaged just 93.3mph while his slider sat at 86.8mph. But in his previous 14 starts his fastball was averaging 95.3mph and his slider averaged 88.1mph. That’s a substantial drop in just a matter of weeks.

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But the early signs this spring have been good for Strasburg as he hopes to get back up to those levels again. Manager Dave Martinez told Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post that what he “noticed today was that his bullpen seemed like it was kind of effortless, and the ball was coming out really well, so that’s a good sign.”

Catcher Kurt Suzuki, who also caught Strasburg back in 2012 and 2013 was noticeably impressed, letting out all manner of high-pitched noises as the righty spun his pitches in there. “He seemed the same to me, the ball comes out of his hand so easy,” Suzuki told Dougherty. “But he did surprise me with one. I don’t want to say he’s increased his arsenal, but he now throws some different pitches in different spots and it makes him that much tougher.”

Obviously, the big question around Strasburg is always going to be his health, having taken 11 trips to the DL in his nine big league seasons. At this point, you can likely count on him to miss a couple of weeks at some point, but if he can avoid serious injury there’s no reason he can’t have a Cy Young caliber year.

After all, he’s only one season removed from a year in which he went 15-4 with a stellar 2.52 ERA that allowed him to finish third in the Cy Young voting. If he can get back to that level, then he could be part of one of the most dominant trios of starting pitchers in all of baseball.

When the first Spring Training games roll around in around a week’s time, it will be interesting to see how Strasburg attacks opposing hitters. The results don’t matter as much, but it will be worth paying attention to not only his velocity but how many swings and misses he generates on his offspeed pitches, as that was a key factor in his late-season form.

Next. Previewing the Nats' position battles this spring. dark

Even though fellow former number one overall pick Bryce Harper may not return to the nation’s capital, Stephen Strasburg is still around. His early performances in Spring Training games will give a good indication of his health ahead of an important season for the Washington Nationals.

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