- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 12, 2015

The final number, 3.46, was a career high and a direct result of April and May. Washington Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg was hit during those two months in a way he had not been previously in his career. First, a 4.60 ERA in April. Then the abomination of May, when opponents hit .351 and Strasburg closed the month with a 10.13 ERA during five starts.

An ankle injury and back problem, both random, had contorted Strasburg’s mechanics. His velocity was down. His number of pitches was up. His ineffectiveness was a contributor to the Nationals slogging through the beginning of the year, a churn that cost them at the end.

Then, he flipped back to the Strasburg who, at 27 years old, is about to enter his prime years as one of the premier pitchers in the league. His post-all-star ERA was 1.90. He struck out 92 in 66 1/3 innings. He had six wins, nearly as many as the eight walks he allowed.

Strasburg often mentioned a “knot” in his upper back that caused discomfort during the season. After the season, he had a benign fibrolipoma — a lipoma is “a benign fatty tumor usually composed of mature fat cells,” which in this case had excessive fibrous tissue — removed. It wasn’t the knot Strasburg referenced, but was a contributor to the symptoms, like the knot, that he felt during the season.

“I’m not going to say it was the reason for pitching poorly or anything,” Strasburg said. “It was above the muscle, so they didn’t cut into muscle or anything. It was a procedure all in itself took about 15 minutes and [doctors] said it’s almost a zero percent chance of coming back. I was pretty much doing my normal stuff within a week.”

Strasburg can become a free agent after the 2016 season. He’s decided to use the staid approach, one day at a time, one pitch at a time.

“I found with pitching, I pitch better, if I don’t stress out as much, if I just focus on the now,” Strasburg said.

Part of that will be developing a relationship with new pitching coach Mike Maddux. Steve McCatty, the only pitching coach Strasburg has had in the big leagues, was fired along with several others from last year’s coaching staff. Maddux arrives with a punchy sense of humor and long track record. Strasburg said he is willing to learn from anyone, and that a relationship with the pitching coach cannot be forced.

“I think communication is a big thing between the pitcher and the pitching coach, especially for the starter,” Strasburg said. “Just going over gameplans before the game, maybe mechanical tweaks. All of us here have been throwing and know our bodies the best and know how it should feel. A lot of times, it’s us coaching ourselves then just picking their brains for some enlightenment.”

He is not going to change anything about his offseason or spring training routine, outside of not severely spraining his ankle by stepping on something in the weight room. Strasburg said his arm felt as “strong as it ever could” during last season. Once he shook off the ankle and back irritations, his numbers proved that.

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