Entering his fourth year in the major leagues, it’s hard to believe Stephen Strasburg has yet to pitch a full season. He’s already pitched an Opening Day, in an All-Star game, and won a Silver Slugger award. He’s one of the league’s brightest young stars and has become a popular pick for this year’s N.L. Cy Young award. But still, no full season.
Players are generally shy about personal goals, but for this particular milestone Strasburg is quite straightforward.
“I’m 24 years old and this is my first opportunity to pitch a full season in the big leagues, I’m still learning how to do it,” he said.
Still learning? Though he hasn’t started made it a full year yet, he holds a career 21-10 record with a 2.94 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 313 strikeouts in 251 1/3 innings. When he has been out there, he’s dominated.
Manager Davey Johnson echoed Strasburg’s comment, without being asked about it. He too thinks the 24-year-old can get even better.
“He’s still learning, he’s still a babe in the woods,” Johnson said. “I think the biggest thing this year, he feels finally he’s got the shackles off of him. There’s not going to be any restraints on him as there have been over the last few years.”
Johnson will treat Strasburg just as he will Jordan Zimmermann or Gio Gonzalez, or any of his pitchers for that matter. The 70-year-old skipper cleared the air for his staff, saying “there’s no restrictions on anybody.”
Now, just because Strasburg won’t be held to a strict limit of 160 innings, that doesn’t mean he will be aiming for 250 this season. Zimmermann was moderated to an extent last year, rarely pitching past the sixth inning no matter how the game was going. He was one year ahead of Strasburg in his recovery from Tommy John and finished 2012 with 195 2/3 innings. Whether they consciously did it or not, Zimmermann was kept under 200 innings and fresh for the playoffs.
All season-long numbers aside, Strasburg is just excited to go longer in games. He believes he can be a better pitcher when given more time to work against lineups.
“It is going to be a big test for me. I haven’t gone over seven innings yet in my career,” he said.
“I know in the past when I’ve been allowed to do that, I feel like I got better later on in the game. The hitters change their approach later in the game and it’s going to be interesting to see how the game is changing in the later innings when you’re still out there. I still haven’t experienced that yet.”
Strasburg will take the mound Monday against the Marlins as the Nationals commence their season at home. He will begin his fourth year looking to reach September and perhaps October without a hitch. Whether he can finally get there or not, we’ll see, but at least he has his chance.