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Strasburg healthy, confident after impressive return to Nats

Jun 24, 2015, 2:17 AM EDT

AP

If the first step toward solving a problem is admitting you have a problem, Stephen Strasburg crossed an important bridge at some point during his 24-day stint on the disabled list.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to take a step back to realize how bad it was,” the right-hander said. “Once I did, I was able to get back to what my body was supposed to feel like, instead of trying to just mentally grind through it. I feel a lot stronger, and it feels a lot more consistent now.”

Strasburg said this early Wednesday morning, after he and everyone else at Nationals Park had waited out a 2-hour, 12-minute rain delay, one final hold-up before he could take the mound for the first time since May 29 and prove to himself and the world he still has what it takes to be one of baseball’s most dynamic pitchers.

Strasburg isn’t a finished product yet, but with five scoreless innings in the Nationals’ 3-1 victory over the Braves late Tuesday night, the enigmatic 26-year-old looked more like his old self than he had at any previous point in 2015. And that was an especially encouraging sign for the organization that has invested so much in him.

“I just think that tonight was a really good step for him,” manager Matt Williams said.

Though the Nationals espoused confidence in Strasburg heading into this start, nobody knew for sure what would happen once he took the mound to face a big-league lineup again. Placed on the 15-day DL after the worst two months of his professional career — a 6.55 ERA, 81 baserunners allowed in only 45 1/3 innings — he ostensibly needed to let a strained left trapezius muscle heal.

While there were some actual physical ailments affecting him, Strasburg’s biggest problem throughout were poor mechanics. He worked extensively with pitching coach Steve McCatty over the last three weeks, watching old video of his throwing motion and paying particular attention to the alignment of his entire body as he strode toward the plate.

After several throwing sessions on flat ground and the bullpen, a simulated game against teammates in Milwaukee and then a rehab start at Class AA Harrisburg, Strasburg was able to pitch Tuesday night confident his mechanics were proper.

“I think that was the No. 1 goal going out there,” he said. “All this time I’ve been working on the mechanics and working on fine-tuning things. But when you’re out there between the lines, you have to go out there and compete. So I wasn’t going to think about mechanics at all. I was just going to go out there and give it everything I have.”

From the get-go, it appeared he had solved the problem. Strasburg pumped out 97-98 mph fastballs in the top of the first and never let up the rest of his evening. He threw 64 of his 94 pitches for strikes, scattered three singles and a double while striking out six (all on high fastballs).

The difference was noticeable to all.

“It looked like … I don’t know, he just looked like he was a little more confident out there,” center fielder Denard Span said. “For me, in the past or earlier in the season, I could kind of tell what pitch was coming, to be honest with you, from center field. But tonight, he looked a little different. Something just looked different. He looked like he was keeping hitters off-balance. It was kind of catching me off guard what was coming out of his hand. I think some of that was mechanics. But he just pounded the strike zone, went after hitters and he was aggressive.”

The only quibble with Strasburg’s performance was his high pitch count, the byproduct of 22 pitches fouled off by the Braves and of Strasburg’s less-than-perfect command of his curveball and changeup. But that was a minor quibble, and something he and the club expect to improve as he gets back into a regular, 5-day rotation.

“They did do a good job of working up the pitch count and fighting pitches off, but that’s not something I’m going to worry about,” he said. “I’m just going to go out there and make them hit the fastball.”

That mindset, perhaps above all else, may have represented the biggest hurdle Strasburg overcame during his DL stint. At times in the past, he may have worried too much about trying to tweak too many parts of his approach to pitching. Maybe there were too many thoughts swirling through his head.

“I think that’s something that talking to a lot of guys in the clubhouse while I was away really kind of shed some light on what my strengths, what my weaknesses are,” he said. “I really just tried to pitch to my strengths.”

Strasburg’s strengths were on full display Tuesday night. And if this was a tease of things to come, the Nationals will rest easy knowing they’ve rediscovered their dominant right-hander once again.

  1. coop202 - Jun 24, 2015 at 6:17 AM

    Love seeing the 97-98 mph fastball and hitters just hoping. Easy to say I’m behind him even if it was just five innings, but I’m stubbornly loyal (still quietly am expecting to see stud Desmond return to form). It’s odd that the rotation has been below average and yet I still believe we have an embarrassment of riches that will prove merit as the season goes on. Would love to see that power curve back in action sunday.

  2. Candide - Jun 24, 2015 at 6:45 AM

    Okay, admit it. When you saw the very first Braves batter launch one 400 feet to dead center, you thought, “Oh, #$%&, here we go again.”

    Because I sure did.

    Breathed a lot easier as the game went on, and suddenly I’m feeling a lot better about our pitching staff.

    • adcwonk - Jun 24, 2015 at 7:48 AM

      Yep — I thought that, too

    • chrisrw109nats - Jun 24, 2015 at 9:24 AM

      The important thing is that while we may have thought that… Stras obviously did not.

  3. alexva6 - Jun 24, 2015 at 7:27 AM

    without him they can be pretty good but with him they can be great.

    way to go Stephen!

  4. veejh - Jun 24, 2015 at 7:28 AM

    Pump the brakes. It was a good 5 inning start vs the Braves. The Braves. A couple more starts like that with at least one through 7 innings and I’ll feel like he’s starting to return to form.

  5. adcwonk - Jun 24, 2015 at 7:51 AM

    A couple of great aspects to this game:

    1. Even without a great curve, and with a not-too-good change up, he still threw five shut out innings.

    2. The armchair psychologists here might stop calling him a mental basket case, and see that maybe it really was physical problems. (Well, they might stop for a few days)

    3. Ditto for those who think McCatty is a nothing might quiet down for a few days, too.

    • Nats Fan Zee - Jun 24, 2015 at 8:10 AM

      Point 1 – agree but remain concerned that consistent success is rarely achieved with one pitch. Would love to see his old curve back

      Point 2 – if it’s a touch warmer or a breeze, that ball goes over Spans head for a HR …. that would have been a good mental test. jury is still out

      Point 3 – Agree, I always liked McCatty and his efforts are not always recognized.

      Hope he can get it all together … Last night was a good 1st step. At the very least, he showed me that he Is open to instruction and is willing to put the work into making that instruction reality.

      • therealjohnc - Jun 24, 2015 at 9:32 AM

        The defense had some adventures behind Stras (Rendon didn’t get to some grounders he normally gets to, Escobar airmails a routine double play, etc) and Strasburg just kept on ticking. The team kept stranding baserunners. But of course none of that counts as “adversity.” How can you tell when there’s adversity? When things go badly. Because Strasburg’s a “head case.” So if things go well, clearly it wasn’t adversity!

    • Hiram Hover - Jun 24, 2015 at 9:37 AM

      Nice stuff, wonk!

  6. adcwonk - Jun 24, 2015 at 7:54 AM

    while striking out six (all on high fastballs).

    As I noted last night: I don’t think this is accurate. At least one of the early K’s came on a fastball that looked like it was down the pipe, and then darted slightly over the inside of the plate.

    I think this is significant because he threw 97 before, but was getting hammered. Last night, his 97-mph fastballs had some movement, which makes a huge huge difference.

    • Guapo - Jun 24, 2015 at 8:38 AM

      FP tends to say some silly things, but he made a really good point last night.

      37 was doing a better job of keeping his front side closed last night. It’s something he’s obviously been working on. That;s big for a couple reasons. One, but not spinning out he tends to be more consistent with delivery and control since everything is moving toward the plate in unison.

      The bigger piece is that staying closed keep the ball hidden longer from hitters. When Stras was opening up early, hitters can pick up the ball sooner, making 97 play like 94. When he hides it more, its just the opposite 97 plays 97 or slightly higher. Problem with guys like Stras is they can get away with just throwing the ball by hitters for most of their careers. But once the bigs get a few seasons of tape on you, without deception, you become hittable.

      Velocity is awesome to have as a pitcher, but deception is more important. The mechanics 37 had on display last night made him more deceptive. That’s good news for the Nats.

    • natsjackinfl - Jun 24, 2015 at 8:54 AM

      Wonk, a fastball down the middle can be considered a pitch “up” in the zone.

  7. laddieblahblah - Jun 24, 2015 at 7:54 AM

    Very encouraging performance for both SS and the Nats.

  8. Theophilus T.S. - Jun 24, 2015 at 7:55 AM

    Likely the most important game since the 13-12 ATL miracle, for three reasons. First, obviously, Strasburg is healthy — we haven’t seen that many 96-98 mph FBs since 2012, even one (according to my recollection) at 99 mph. Curve and change-up were not up to par but his arm is good and the other pitches will get better. Wagner article in WaPo makes it clear what a radical rebuilding of his pitching motion and preparation was accomplished in the short span of three weeks while working through the injury. (It also tells us the Nats should have put him on the DL long before they did.) Second reason is that Roark is back in the bullpen, which now appears to be in good shape and well-outfitted for the remainder of the season. Third, Rendon is really back, not just in the lineup. A sidebar: Taylor is contributing steadily at the bottom of the lineup. By the end of the season he’ll have a .275 BA, a much improved (.310+?) on base percentage, more than 20 SBs.

    • Nats Fan Zee - Jun 24, 2015 at 8:11 AM

      That was a team effort … This was not

      • stoatva - Jun 24, 2015 at 8:51 AM

        Not a team effort? Three runs in three separate innings, each coming via multiple base hits? No home runs? Excellent performance with RISP?

        Don’t understand where this comment is coming from.

    • Nats Fan Zee - Jun 24, 2015 at 2:20 PM

      When compared to the 13-12 Game in April against Atlanta? We were down 10-2 after the 4th!

      My comment was that Theophilus rationale was a good night by Rendon and Strasburg’s 5 inning 94 pitch effort and Roark’s return to the BP. Sorry, when compared to that April game this one does not compare to the team contributions that night.

  9. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 24, 2015 at 8:19 AM

    Strasburg: “Sometimes you’ve got to take step back to realize how bad it was. Once I did, able to get back to what my body’s supposed to feel like.

    Maybe it wasn’t an overreaction from those who said early on that he needed a DL stint.

    • natsdial8 - Jun 24, 2015 at 9:23 AM

      Matt is a little slow sitting or recommending DL. Ian, Z, Stras should all have been sat down long before they were.

      • nats128 - Jun 24, 2015 at 9:26 AM

        And Werth needed a long stint in the Minors as he was all ready on the DL. He wasnt even ready to play Leftfield.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 24, 2015 at 10:18 AM

        I think it’s a little more complicated than that. The player and agent sometimes are very vocal in these decisions and I think Rizzo is the key decision maker.

    • natsdial8 - Jun 24, 2015 at 11:38 AM

      Agree Ghost that Mike makes final decision on DL . Have to think though that Matt controls the daily lineup , for the most part. Even considering that stars get different treatment I feel Matt could actually help these guys by resting them ( benching as we called it back before PC police ) on occasion .

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 24, 2015 at 11:51 AM

        Yes, I think Matt made the choice to “rest” Desi.

  10. veejh - Jun 24, 2015 at 8:22 AM

    Watching video of his old throwing motion….

    Does this mean he’s back to the inverted W now?

    • natsjackinfl - Jun 24, 2015 at 8:57 AM

      Veejh, he’s never changed that delivery. He’s always had the inverted W thing, as do 70% of pitchers.

  11. Candide - Jun 24, 2015 at 8:29 AM

    Apropos of nothing, Seattle has a dramatically under-producing middle infielder, too. Robinson Cano is batting .246, OPS .633, with three home runs.

  12. Hiram Hover - Jun 24, 2015 at 8:55 AM

    With Stras, some folks seem to set ridiculous expectations and then roast him for failing to meet them.

    He’s having the worst season of his career, goes on the DL, and in his first start back pitches 5 scoreless innings with 6 Ks.

    By any reasonable measure, that should be incredibly encouraging.

    Compare it to what Fister did in his first start back–5 ER in 5.1 innings. But it’s Stras, so there’s no way 5 scoreless innings is good enough.

    I’m also sure those “Stras is a head case” commenters were poised to flame him when he walked the pitcher to put 2 men on with 1 out. Then Stras came back and struck out Peterson and got a grounder from Maybin to end the inning.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Jun 24, 2015 at 9:16 AM

      He has been, in the past, a head case, assigning blame to others among other things. Second, while I don’t have the transcripts — although the chiropractor “adjustment” is some evidence — there is no doubt in my mind Strasburg wasn’t candid (or accepting?) about how much the sprain was affecting his delivery, refused to accept conventional medical treatment and resisted going on the DL. I’m thrilled he’s had his Eureka moment and finally has everything aligned because now he can pitch up to his talent.

      There are signs the entire Nats rotation is not only physically sound but also, finally, have their heads on straight. While inconsistent, Gonzalez has been acceptable more often than he has been awful and he hasn’t had any Exorcist moments this year. Sunday’s game, which I attended, says to me he has been paying attention as Scherzer and even Ross showed how to concentrate, stay composed and let talent rise to the top.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 24, 2015 at 9:33 AM

        Theo, that’s not really how these narratives–they can’t be disproved.

        It doesn’t matter how many jams he pitches out of. The next time he doesn’t, the “Stras is a headcase” comments will be back in full force.

      • Toot D. Blan - Jun 24, 2015 at 9:34 AM

        There you go again. SOOTBLAN. Although Strasburg has several times had an inning fall apart after an error behind him, etc, when has he ever “assigned blame to others”? And as for your whole “Strasburg (or any other Nat for that matter) is a head case” meme, as some would say it takes one to know one, doesn’t it?

      • therealjohnc - Jun 24, 2015 at 9:37 AM

        ” … there is no doubt in my mind … ”

        Heh. It reminds me of the old adage: “often wrong, never in doubt.”

  13. rayvil01 - Jun 24, 2015 at 9:15 AM

    MAT is clearly developing. The extended time he’s getting is worlds better than being in AAA. Nobody down there is throwing the quality of breaking balls he’s seeing every night. Great silver lining from all the early injuries to the outfield.

    • nats128 - Jun 24, 2015 at 9:24 AM

      Looks much more comfortable in LF and his plate discipline is improving. The learn on the job thing has been working.

    • natsdial8 - Jun 24, 2015 at 9:28 AM

      Michael still very weak on in game instinct and basics . If he ever learns how to run the bases he could be really good .

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 24, 2015 at 9:40 AM

        The jury is out regarding his base running,and whether he’ll improve, but his throws in from the outfield have been strong, and his decisions as to where to throw to have been pretty much infallible.He’s also made some superb catches that I seriously question whether Jayson would have made, much less Moore, Robinson, etc.

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 24, 2015 at 9:34 AM

      And Taylor is playing an overall terrific LF. He still might make an interesting adjustment sometimes on the line drives hit directly at him, but he is making the catches.And he and Span seem to have developed good communication with each other.But his biggest improvement has come at the plate where he is doing a much better job laying off the low and outside off speed stuff.

    • alexva6 - Jun 24, 2015 at 9:34 AM

      while I was for sending him back to AAA a month ago I’m coming around to the idea that his time here has been beneficial.

      I still feel CF in 2015 is his ultimate destination

    • Hiram Hover - Jun 24, 2015 at 9:35 AM

      I have not been a huge fan of his, but he has definitely looked better.

  14. natsdial8 - Jun 24, 2015 at 9:35 AM

    My view of Steven is that he has too much going on with his delivery .

  15. micksback1 - Jun 24, 2015 at 10:09 AM

    Thats what we are looking for. Now, lets see if Stras can be consistent. last night was a great start

  16. coolhandbane - Jun 24, 2015 at 10:11 AM

    Going to the game today. I have a question to those who go to the games. Am I allowed to bring in outside food in a 1 gallon clear ziploc bag? I want to bring some pretzels or chips to the game.

    • Bruxtun - Jun 24, 2015 at 10:13 AM

      Yep you can bring in almost any outside food. Only unopened water bottles as far as beverages go.

      • coolhandbane - Jun 24, 2015 at 10:23 AM

        As long as they are in a clear ziploc bag or a clear container?

      • micksback1 - Jun 24, 2015 at 10:24 AM

        lucky foryou, a few years ago, I tried to bring in some of my favorite candy all in a small plastic bag, I woman at the gate said no.

        but, I got even, I was so mad that i could not take candy in that I got bold, I attended the nats vs Yankees game back in June of 2012 and I snuck in 3 bottles of Corona light which I hid in the crotch of my pants.

        lol

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 24, 2015 at 10:43 AM

        Bruxtun is correct–sorry, mick, sounds like the guard you tangled with doesn’t know their own rules:

        “Outside Food And Beverage
        All food items must be contained in single serving bags within a soft-sided container or cooler that does not exceed 16″x16″x8″. Metal, plastic or glass containers of any kind (except for clear, factory-sealed, plastic water bottles, no larger than one liter, juice boxes, insulin containers, and baby food) are prohibited at Nationals Park. Only one bottle of water per person will be permitted.”

        http://mlb.mlb.com/was/ballpark/information/index.jsp?content=guide#O

      • coolhandbane - Jun 24, 2015 at 11:12 AM

        I feel like a dumbass for asking but when they say “single serving bags within a soft-sided container or cooler that does not exceed 16″x16″x8″, does that mean the food has to be sealed in the container or can you bring chips/fruits in a clear ziploc bag meeting the 16″x16″x8 measurements?

    • micksback1 - Jun 24, 2015 at 10:14 AM

      I hate to tell you this, but NO. unless you hide it in your pants or shirt.

      I learned tenh hard way a few years ago

      Remember, theyw nat you to buy their food and drink

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 24, 2015 at 10:42 AM

      We bring in homemade popcorn, sealed water bottles, sandwiches, kibbles and bits for humans, etc to every game. Never had any issues. The candy ban is at FedEX Field. They won’t let you bring in a pack of chewing gum.

      • micksback1 - Jun 24, 2015 at 10:49 AM

        I hope you all are right. After 2012, I stopped trying to bring in my own food. OK, so I will try again, starting tonight, not the Corona’s (ha, ha) but maybe a box or 2 of Goobers and Mike and Ike’s

        I hear you about Fed Ex… I will never attend another game at Fed ex until a certain owner sells the team and that racist name is gone.

        What a contrast to the Lerners to the jerk owner of the football team
        Class vs no class, plain and simple.

      • nats128 - Jun 24, 2015 at 11:15 AM

        Yep, I bring in sealed bottled water, sunflower seeds, candy but the food is so good there that I dont mind buying Hard Times Chili on top of tater tots or a jerk chicken sandwich or go top floor to the Shack. The craft beers are great to. I have even tried to the sushi but it was nothing special. Part of the game day experience for me is indulging in food and beer there. For what I now save on parking using the Parking Panda app now pays for my food bill. I used to pay for a Nats parking lot and no longer do that.

        By the way, crazy last night as I left the stadium I saw a woman hit by a car. It looked like she was laying dead then she got up and limped to the corner. I was 1/2 a block away and called 911 and ran over there at the corner of Potomac and South Capital. The female passenger was yelling at the woman who was hit. I couldnt believe the scene and I waved down a Homeland Security Police Car passing by but I guess it was out of his jurisdiction and he wouldn’t get out of his car. Looks like the girl will be ok. I just hope alcohol didnt play a part in it for the driver or pedestrian. She was not walking in a crosswalk.

      • natsjackinfl - Jun 24, 2015 at 11:22 AM

        I can vouch for Joe’s homemade sandwiches. Best chicken salad sandwiches I’ve ever had at the ball park. And I alway bring in my own bag of peanuts.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 24, 2015 at 11:22 AM

        We bring a soft cooler with all of the stuff mentioned in my post above. We put things mostly in zip lock bags. On really hot days we have brought 4 bootles of water, a gallon sized zip lock bag filled with ice cubes, and a couple of small clean towels. If we get miserably hot we pour a bottle of water in the bag of ice, soak the towels, and put them on our necks. I have gotten searched and wanded a couple of times, but never had any hassle bringing food in.

      • coolhandbane - Jun 24, 2015 at 11:33 AM

        What type of container do you bring your food in?

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 24, 2015 at 11:38 AM

        coolhandbane, we carry a canvas bag for the dry stuff, and a small soft cooler for the stuff that needs to stay cool. We used a promo hand out cooler that they gave out for a couple of years ago, but now we have a better one.

      • natsfan1a - Jun 24, 2015 at 11:39 AM

        We generally bring in individual sandwich bags with (unsalted) peanuts and/or trail mix. We’ve also brought in granola bars and the occasional homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We bring our bottled water as well. As long as the bottle isn’t opened until you’re in the park, you’re okay.

      • natsfan1a - Jun 24, 2015 at 11:41 AM

        As far as the overall container, my husband has a small backpack and I have a smallish canvas “game” bag. We carry the food and water in those, as well as binos, ponchos, etc.

    • Candide - Jun 24, 2015 at 12:39 PM

      I’ve seen people in the club area who’d brought what looked like an entire 4-course dinner. As long as you can get it in a backpack, it’s pretty much okay, as long as it’s within Hiram Hover’s guidelines below.

      As far as getting around the water restriction – Cunegonde and I have a couple of 24-ounce plastic water bottles with wide mouths. We fill them up with ice before leaving the house, then top them off at a water fountain at the park. Once in a great while a gate checker will say something, but simply telling them the written policy allows it is all it takes to end the discussion.

      Last season, a couple at the picnic tables questioned our ice bottles, and I educated them about the policy. Then we started speculating: Why not freeze vodka ice cubes? Soon had five or six people discussing the possibilities.

      We finally got around to checking out the freezing/melting point of vodka. IIRC, it was something like 17 below zero, and chances are your home freezer is at least 30 degrees warmer than that.

      Well, it was a good idea while it lasted…

      • natsdial8 - Jun 24, 2015 at 1:00 PM

        Jello shooters might solve your dilemna.

  17. Joe Seamhead - Jun 24, 2015 at 11:35 AM

    The sandwiches that Jack referred to? I brought in 8 sandwiches that night, with no hassles. They were good: chicken salad made from grilled chicken breasts soaked in a home grown tarragon based marinade, and served on some good rolls! Brought chips for 5 of us, too.

    • natsfan1a - Jun 24, 2015 at 11:42 AM

      Uh, where to I sign up for the sandwiches? 😉

      • natsfan1a - Jun 24, 2015 at 11:42 AM

        where “do” I – time for lunch!

  18. Joe Seamhead - Jun 24, 2015 at 11:40 AM

    coolhand? My response to your question on the container got Word Pressed to somewhere up above.

  19. Anthony Rendon - Jun 24, 2015 at 1:12 PM

    Stras made me happy last night. I can see him having a fantastic year if his change up improves to previous levels and he gains better control of his curve. The Braves lineup sucks but they rarely strike out so I don’t expect as many fouls in the future.

    That sandwich sounds good. Lunch Time.

  20. Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 24, 2015 at 1:18 PM

    Great stuff, folks! We should save a link to this discussion on the NIDO+ sheet.

  21. manassasnatsfan - Jun 24, 2015 at 2:59 PM

    The number of foul balls by Strasbourg has always been high. But the 0 runs in 5 was good to see.

    Let’s go 6 next time.

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