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Strasburg's mental game

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For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, here’s my story on Stephen Strasburg that ran in today’s editions of the paper. It contains material, observations and quotes I gathered while out in Arizona last month, and the most interesting conclusion I drew out of it is that Strasburg is far more than just a guy with a 100 mph fastball. He really understands how to pitch, and the mental side of his game is just as significant as the physical side, as you’ll see from my article.

There were some other interesting things I gathered from Strasburg and the rest of the Phoenix Desert Dogs, though, that didn’t make it into the story but I wanted to share. Perhaps most significant is this fact: Strasburg is extremely humble. He’s confident, yes, and believes he can retire any batter he faces. But he’s not cocky and he doesn’t believe he’s entitled to anything that others aren’t.

You have to remember something about Strasburg: Two years ago, he was nothing. He was a pudgy reliever buried in the San Diego State bullpen who never in anyone’s wildest dreams would someday become the highest-paid draft pick in baseball history.

“He wasn’t the guy the he is now,” said Danny Espinosa, the Nats’ infield prospect who was a junior at Long Beach State when Strasburg was a freshman at San Diego State. “He was a freshman and I hadn’t heard of him yet. For him to work as hard as he did and to get into the shape that he’s in, and given the chance that he has now to be one of the most dominant pitchers, if not the most dominant pitcher, when he gets to the big leagues, it’s unbelievable. Hats off to him for doing what he had to do to get there.”

Strasburg remains grounded because he knows how quickly all this fame and fortune came to him (and how quickly it could in theory disappear). That’s also why he doesn’t strictly rely on his “stuff” when he’s on the mound. He’s always been a thinking-man’s pitcher.

“I didn’t always throw hard,” he said. “I was pretty average in high school. That’s where I really learned how to pitch and really took it upon myself to learn the mental aspect of it. And I continue to do that.”

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Mark Zuckerman

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