Viera, Fla. – Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg went 15-6 last season with a 3.16 ERA before getting shut down after his Sept. 7 start against Miami at Nats Park. Strasburg, one year removed from Tommy John Surgery at the time, finished the year throwing 159 1/3 innings.
This season, there are no innings limits and no restrictions.
I sat down and talked to Strasburg at Nats camp in Viera as he gets set to make his first start of the Grapefruit League season Saturday against the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie.
Heist – Stephen, as you get ready for this season it has to be good to know there are no limitations and you are full bore and ready to go.
Strasburg – Yeah, it’s pretty exciting and I worked hard all off season to get ready for this opportunity, so I’m excited to see how everything plays out.
Heist – How has this spring been different for you or has it been?
Strasburg – It’s been pretty much the same as last year. It’s been kind of the same drills. We haven’t started games yet but once that starts, I’m probably going to notice a difference in how I feel. I can already tell I feel a lot stronger early on.
Heist – This team in the Cardinals in the NLDS came up short and it seems like the team mantra is “unfinished business.” Is that the best way to look at it?
Strasburg – Yeah. I mean, we wanted to get to the World Series last year and win it and we didn’t do that so that’s our number one goal this year.
Heist – I know you have answered this in the past but how tough was it for you not to be a part of that post-season run last year?
Strasburg – It was tough but it’s all water under the bridge now and I’m just excited to be back with the guys here in spring training and get ready for the year.
Heist – You have added Dan Haren to this rotation and obviously if his back is 100 percent and he is healthy, you’ve got a number one in the back end of the rotation essentially and that makes everyone stronger.
Strasburg – Well, I think we have number one guys 1-through-5 in the rotation. It’s all about picking each other up and I think if we can click on all the right cylinders, we’re going to win a lot of games.
Heist – The Nats brought in Denard Span to hit leadoff and play center field. That means Bryce moves to left and Jayson on right. Defense up the middle is key to any pitcher and it appears you guys are set there.
Strasburg – Yeah, absolutely. I think it was a huge pick up this off-season getting a true leadoff type guy and a guy who can really track it in centerfield. I’m excited to go out there, knowing he is going to be backing it up and catching everything.
Heist – Do you set any goals coming into a season? I mean, you won 15 games last year and with the way you pitched last year, do you set any goals for yourself?
Strasburg – No, not like statistical goals or anything. I want to go out there and give it everything I have every single time, be mentally locked in and focused every single pitch and just trust it, just commit and let the chips fall.
Heist – During the spring what are you working on most? Is it command? Location? What’s the progress for you as the spring moves on?
Strasburg – Well, I found out the last couple of years it take longer for me to get my consistency and my command down being a power pitcher so, I’m just going to take it day-by-day and focus on the little things and really not try and re-invent the wheel. I know the more times I get out on the mound in games it’s going to be a little more crisp and it’s going to look a little more polished.
Heist – The Braves got better, the Phillies look to rebound after having a ton of injuries last year and this division, top to bottom, is probably one of the best in baseball.
Strasburg – I think it is the best in baseball. Anywhere we go there is going to be a target on our back, not just our division. So that’s something we are going to have to learn to play with and we’re going to have to step up our games because there are teams that are going to be doing the same thing.
Heist – The exhibition opener Saturday against the Mets. What’s your goal for that game? Pitches, innings?
Strasburg – I don’t know. I have heard multiple pitch counts and stuff. So I am just going to go out there and work on a few things and get my work in, move on and get ready for the next one.
Heist – What did you learn about yourself last year going through that 15- win season?
Strasburg – I’ve got a lot more left in the tank. Last year was the most pitches I’ve ever thrown but I think with all the conditioning and preparation I had in place, I definitely could have gone a lot longer and I want to do that this year.