VIERA, Fla. — Stephen Strasburg took the mound Tuesday with two, somewhat dueling objectives. On one hand, the Nationals ace wanted to finish his spring on a high note and position himself as best he could for Opening Day. On the other hand, he didn’t want to tip his hand too much to the same Mets lineup he’ll be facing six days from now at Citi Field, with a whole lot more on the line.
“I think it affected the way I attacked them,” the right-hander said. “But you get out there in the heat of the moment and you definitely want to go out there compete, so I wasn’t just giving in to anybody.”
Nor did he appear to. Strasburg was mostly effective over 5 2/3 innings, his only significant hiccups coming during a 3-run top of the third. Otherwise, he was in control, striking out seven, tossing a couple of shutdown innings after his teammates gave him the lead and running his pitch count up to a spring-high 84, setting himself up nicely to approach triple digits on Opening Day.
Thus concluded Strasburg’s fifth big-league camp in Viera, this one unique in that he was focused mostly on some finer points of pitching. He made significant strides in his ability to hold runners on base and get the ball to the plate with less wasted time. And he added a slider to his already-deep repertoire, becoming comfortable enough to acknowledge he’s prepared to use it in any game situation.
“Yeah, I’m going to throw it. Why not?” he said. “At the same time, I feel like I’ve got some pitches that I’ve had success with for a few years now. And I had those pitches. Those were the ones that got me to the big leagues. So I’m not going to dump any other one. It’s just another pitch they’re going to have to get ready for.”
Spring training numbers should always be taken with a grain of salt, but Strasburg’s performance was superb. He made five Grapefruit League starts and finished 4-0 with a 1.83 ERA, allowing 13 hits and six walks over 19 2/3 innings while striking out 17.
Strasburg will now get an extra day of rest before making his third consecutive Opening Day start against the Mets’ Dillon Gee. He’ll enter that game confident he accomplished everything he wanted when he arrived in Viera six weeks ago.
“Got some good work in,” he said. “Wanted to come into spring and work on another pitch and working on my timing out of the stretch and controlling the run game. I felt like I got a lot more comfortable with that as the spring went on.”