WASHINGTON (AP) — As part of his bid to stay healthy throughout the season, Stephen Strasburg will pitch entirely from the stretch when he takes the mound for the defending NL East champion Washington Nationals against the Miami Marlins on Monday.
“It’s still throwing a baseball. It’s not like I’m trying to throw left-handed or sidearm or anything,” said Strasburg, sporting a thick beard. “You get this feeling when it’s right, and you want to be able to repeat it as many times as you can and make good pitches. I feel like it’s something that helps me do that.”
This will be the fourth career start on opening day for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft, so it’s nothing new. It is noteworthy, however, because his 2016 season ended in September because of a sore throwing elbow, the second time he has been forced to sit out a postseason.
“Anytime he’s on the mound, I’m happy, because he’s one of the great pitchers in the National League,” said Washington general manager Mike Rizzo, who signed Strasburg to a $175 million, seven-year contract that begins this season. “He’s gone through a lot of trials and tribulations and he’s back.”
There are other adjustments as Strasburg attempts to still be around for Game 162 — and, he hopes, beyond.
He did more long-distance running in the offseason. He will throw fewer pitches during bullpen sessions. He will use his new slider less often than in 2016.
“He decided that he was going to do it,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Until he’s not effective, then you let him do it.”
When Baker played, he preferred to hit against someone throwing from the stretch.
“In a windup, he’s throwing haymakers all the time. A pitcher out of the stretch, that’s like throwing jabs,” Baker said. “But there are some guys that can knock you out with some jabs.”
After opening 2016 with a 13-0 record and a 2.51 ERA, Strasburg ended up 15-4 with a 3.60 ERA. On Monday, he’ll go up against right-hander Edinson Volquez, who went 10-11 with a 5.37 ERA for the Kansas City Royals a year ago before joining Miami as a free agent.
This is the 33-year-old Volquez’s fifth opening day start — for four teams.
“I am the old guy,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve had a long career in the major leagues, and the younger guys have probably seen me pitch since they were in the minors. It’s a great opportunity to come in and help them improve.”
Marlins manager Don Mattingly pointed to Volquez as the closest thing his club has to an ace right now.
The unquestioned leader of the staff was Jose Fernandez, who died in a boating accident last season.
“The one guy we look to, with probably the most experience, who has been through a lot, is Edinson. Not very many teams have that pure ace. A lot of our guys are similar,” Mattingly said. “Edinson is probably the guy who has been through the most. He has won a World Series and high-impact games.”