This is the time of year pro baseball fans long for, especially those who live in snowy climes: major league pitchers and catchers begin showing up at spring training. You can count Washington Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg among those who is happy to be in camp and not having his surgically repaired right elbow as the only topic of conversation. Yet it will still follow him around because of his high profile and because of the circumstances surrounding it.
The 24-year-old is supposed to be under “no restrictions” this season, although the meaning of that term is a point of contention. Still, no team can hold his hand forever, and it’s been 28 months since he underwent ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (better known as Tommy John surgery). Now Strasburg says he wants to be the “workhorse in the rotation” and going into his fourth pro season, he wants to be able to throw at least 200 innings for the first time.
He came close to that mark in 2012 when he worked 159.1 innings in 28 games (all starts) and compiled a 15-6 record with a 3.16 ERA, 197 strikeouts and only 48 walks. Despite his above-average performance, manager Davey Johnson stuck to the script and shut down the San Diego native in early September to protect the phenom’s arm, the exact strategy the club used with right-hander Jordan Zimmermann the year before. Strasburg said a month ago that the forced conclusion was, ironically, “still kind of a sore spot.” But on Monday at spring training, Strasburg employed a far different tone.
“I’m 100 percent over it,” he told USA Today, even going so far as to say he thought “it was fun to watch” the Nationals’ playoff run in which he should have been involved, instead of being on the bench. Obviously, he wants to put all that behind him and look forward to pitching full-out in 2013.
“It’s a long season and it’s the National League, so there are a lot of opportunities to save you a little. But I want them to know I’m going to be 100 [percent] ready. If you need me to go out there for another inning, I’m your guy.”
Strasburg went on to talk about mixing his fastball and sinkerball better in his delivery, working on getting his pitch count down, which would help lower his ERA and have him go deeper into ballgames. He’s also excited about the additions that general manager Mike Rizzo made in the off-season, specifically starter Dan Haren, reliever Rafael Soriano and speedy center fielder Denard Span.
It’s still a work in progress, and the Nationals have several questions which must still be answered. But that’s what spring training is for, and Strasburg is ready to be an active part of it again — all the way to the end.