Stephen Strasburg pronounced his fastball command better than it was before his carpal tunnel surgery and said his first game action in nearly seven full months essentially was the same as any other Grapefruit League debut after throwing 1 2/3 innings Tuesday night against the Houston Astros.
“It didn’t really feel any different than it has in past springs, so I guess, in a way, that’s a relief,” said the 2019 World Series MVP, who made just two starts and pitched only five innings in 2020.
In 2019, he led the National League with 209 innings and 18 wins, then went 5-0 in the postseason — no pitcher had ever done that — while helping the Nationals win the franchise’s first championship.
“This isn’t my first rodeo when it comes to injuries and stuff,” Strasburg said on a video conference with a chuckle, knowing he has made more than 10 trips to the injured list over the years and had Tommy John surgery in 2012. “So I’m kind of at a point where I’m going to go out there and give it everything I have and roll with the punches.”
The 32-year-old righty hadn’t faced opposing hitters since Aug. 14, when he left an appearance against the Baltimore Orioles after 16 pitches. He went on the IL the following day, was shut down a week after that and soon enough was having an operation to fix what was causing his thumb and, eventually, entire pitching hand to go numb.
On Tuesday in West Palm Beach, Florida, Strasburg said he tried all of his types of pitches; as usual in the spring, he said, the curveball will be the last to come along.
He retired five of the six Astros he faced while throwing 38 pitches. That included four strikeouts — of Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, Kyle Tucker and Myles Straw — and a fielder’s choice groundout from Michael Brantley.
The only Houston batter who came to the plate while Strasburg was on the mound and didn’t record an out was Jose Altuve, who walked with one out in the first inning.
“You try and read the swings,” Strasburg said, “and I was pretty happy with the types of swings they were taking at my pitches.”
Before the game, Nationals manager Dave Martinez said he was aiming to give Strasburg a chance to reach a pitch count of about 35 in what is expected to be the first of five spring training appearances before opening day on April 1, just like the other leading members of Washington’s rotation such as Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin.
“I’ve watched him. His mechanics are clean. Everything is good. His routine’s been the same,” Martinez said. “He’s worked really hard — a testament to why he could come today and get going and hopefully get him those five starts with no issues and get him ready for the season.”