Entering his fifth season in Major League Baseball, Stephen Strasburg will take the mound on Monday afternoon in New York to start yet another Opening Day for the Nationals. This will be his third season opener, and having been through it before, he knows exactly what to expect.
"You just have to treat it like another game. The biggest thing is just working around the extra ceremonies. Guys getting called out to the lines and everything. If they have a flyover, they have a flyover. Just one start of many and just gotta focus on the process and focus on the end result. That's playing our best baseball at the end of the year."
Strasburg has been no stranger to high expectations for both himself and lately for his team. Last season the Nationals were predicted by many to win the World Series, including Sports Illustrated. SI has returned this year with the same proclamation: the Nats are Series favorites.
Having already played a season under that distinction, having already been through a year with a target on their backs, Strasburg says the Nationals will not be affected by those expectations.
"I don't subscribe to Sports Illustrated or ESPN The Magazine, so I really don't read that stuff too much. I think maybe from a media perspective it can change the way our club is viewed. Bottom line is, in the clubhouse we know how hard it is to even get to the playoffs on a year in and year out basis. That's something that we're shooting for. As you've seen in the past, anything can happen when you get there. It's not always the best team on paper or the team with the best record over the course of the year, it's just whoever is hot."
Though Strasburg's win-loss record of 8-9 in 2013 suggests it was a trying year, many statistics show it was his best season. He held a 3.00 ERA over a career-high 183 innings, posted a 1.049 WHIP and had his first complete game shutout.
Strasburg has a career 2.96 ERA and has been among the game's best pitchers when healthy, but still has room for improvement. He still hopes to hit the 200-inning mark and frequently cites durability as something he strives for.
"I think my first year was definitely a challenge for myself. Every single ball I threw was magnified. I think at times I really pushed myself to be game-ready at the start of spring," he said.
"Just from talking to guys that have been through it before and have figured out the puzzle of what it's like to stay healthy and throw 200-plus innings every year and make all their starts, what they all say is that it's not a sprint, it's a marathon. You have to try and not change your program from one bad start to the next. You just gotta stay the course."
Strasburg compared the process to another of his favorite sports.
"Much like golf, if you start out with a couple of bogeys, you can't just try and change your swing or change your approach. You just gotta keep working hard. That's all you can really do, be ready to toe it up and compete every fifth day."
Strasburg is 2-0 in Opening Day starts, having beat the Marlins a year ago and the Cubs in 2012. The Nationals open their 2014 season at the New York Mets at Citi Field on Monday at 1:05 p.m.