- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2016

The Washington Nationals surprised the baseball world on Monday night by signing right-handed starter Stephen Strasburg to a seven-year, $175 million contract extension.

Strasburg, eligible to become a free agent at the end of the season, was on the mound for his seventh start when news of the new deal broke. The Nationals trailed at the time because he had allowed a two-run home run in the top of the first inning, but won the game, 5-4, on a walk-off home run by Clint Robinson.

Afterward, various players were seen congratulating Strasburg in the Nationals clubhouse. Strasburg chose not to comment, though a press conference is expected Tuesday afternoon to announce the deal.

“I don’t really have a comment about that right now,” Strasburg said. “Just really excited about this game. It was a lot of fun to watch.”

Strasburg was asked if there was a reason he couldn’t talk about the extension.

“I’m really just focusing on this game here,” Strasburg said. “All that stuff’s going to work itself out eventually.”

As a Scott Boras client, Strasburg’s move to sign an extension and not hit the open market as a free agent is a surprise. Strasburg was positioned to be the top pitching choice this offseason by a large margin. Instead, he’ll remain with the only club he has known since being drafted No. 1 overall by the Nationals in 2009.

Since entering the big leagues with a staggering level of hype in 2010, the 27-year-old has compiled a 3.06 ERA. He had Tommy John surgery in late 2010, then was controversially limited by the team in 2012, when it shut him down before the postseason.

The extension marks the largest contract for a pitcher in baseball history after they have had Tommy John surgery. Earlier in the day, former teammate Jordan Zimmermann, visiting with his new team, the Detroit Tigers, explained that his precedent-setting five-year, $110 million contract signed with the Tigers last offseason showed that pitchers who did their work after Tommy John surgery would be all right moving forward. His comments turned out to be prescient.

Strasburg’s contract is the second massive commitment the Nationals have made to a starting pitcher in the last two years. They signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million deal in January 2015.

Also looming for the club is Bryce Harper’s ongoing steps toward free agency, though that cannot occur until after the 2018 season. Harper was excited to discuss the prospect of Strasburg remaining long-term with the Nationals.

“I think it’s huge,” Harper said. “He’s one of the best arms in baseball. He goes about it every single day, works his tail off every single day. It’s a lot of fun to have him around. He’s one of the best. I’m very happy for Stras. The way he’s gone about it, it hasn’t been easy, but he’s done it the right way.”

Coming into this season, Strasburg wasn’t sure how he would handle being in a contract year for the first time.

“I really don’t know,” Strasburg said in spring training. “It’s not like I’ve been in a contract year before. I know what I know, and I know that I go out there, and I bust my butt every single day. If I give it everything have to help this team win some games, all that other stuff is going to take care of itself. I guess the best I can do is just focus on the now and what I got going on today, and then when I go to bed, what do I have going on the next day. I’m going to stay in there and try to function in the same time zone.”

He was excited that his mother, Kathleen Swett, would be around this season, able to visit Washington and watch him pitch often for the first time since he entered the major leagues.

One thing signing an extension in early May does for Strasburg is eliminate uncertainty and discussion about his would-be free agency.

“For me, you’re going to do your job and you’re going to ask your questions, whatever it may be, but it’s my job as a professional that when I come to the clubhouse, it’s important to be a good teammate,” Strasburg said in February. “It’s important to have the right frame of mind. That’s the reason why I play the game. I play the game to win. I’m a competitor first, and I want to win. I want to win for the Washington Nationals this year, and we’ll take it one year at a time.”

Multiple players have gone through contract years and struggled. Former shortstop Ian Desmond appears to have fallen victim to that last season. Strasburg was aware of the phenomenon, though nonplussed by it.

“I really don’t read into that too much,” Strasburg said. “I just try to be myself. Family’s more important to me than baseball. I’m looking forward to the season, just spending time with my family. My mom’s able to finally come out a little bit more than she has in the past. So, I’m just excited to spend time with them. Especially have them see D.C.”

He expounded Monday night on the expansion of his comfort in Washington.

“Growing up in southern California, San Diego, all my life, East Coast is a little bit of a change,” Strasburg said. “But, the city of D.C. has been great to me and my family. It’s really grown on us. We’re very comfortable here.”

Strasburg was working off a torrid second half of last season. He put together a 1.90 ERA in 10 starts and held opponents to a .179 batting average. He had a 2.76 ERA after Monday night’s start, in which he allowed four runs on six hits and struck out 11 batters before being removed following a walk to Miguel Cabrera in the eighth inning.

Retaining Strasburg positions the Nationals‘ rotation for several years. Scherzer and Strasburg are followed by quality back-end starters Joe Ross and Tanner Roark, plus the presence of Lucas Giolito, a right-hander currently pitching for Double-A Harrisburg and widely considered one of the top prospects in baseball.

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