Head’s up: Stephen Strasburg knows what’s wrong after getting rocked

David Brown

Stephen Strasburg had a rough outing for the Washington Nationals in his third Grapefruit League appearance Wednesday night. The Atlanta Braves rocked him for four runs and five hits, including two home runs. No celebratory StasBurgers for him.

His arm wasn't sore because of leftover effects from elbow surgery. In fact, Strasburg said he felt great — which was part of the problem. That, coupled with his ego. A 23-year-old who can follow up a 100 mph fastball by taking 27 mph off with a subsequent breaking pitch is used to dominating, so Strasburg gets mad when things don't go his way. Pitching coach Steve McCatty and manager Davey Johnson had to pull Strasburg aside and let him calm down so he could see what he had been doing.

In one of the most insightful posts you'll read this spring, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post takes us inside Strasburg's head:

He had started throwing rather than pitching. He let the returning strength in his right elbow fool him into thinking he could throw it past hitters no matter where he located his fastball. Strasburg realized he had let his own extra energy get the best of him.

"My arm feels great, so I'm almost over-throwing because it feels so good," Strasburg said. "That's one thing that I have to take a step back and remember what I learned from last year. You have to go out there and pitch. You can't just throw it by guys."

Strasburg's best stuff might be between his ears.

But why get peeved over spring training? Simply because nobody's going to remember those results in a month — just like most of Nolan Ryan's spring performances were forgotten long ago — it doesn't mean Strasburg has to just let it go. Not when there's something to learn. One at-bat in particular, against Dan Uggla, really set Strasburg off.

Uggla fell behind 1-and-2 but, Strasburg said, would be looking for a fastball on the next pitch. Stubbornly, in Strasburg's own words, he challenged Uggla and lost. He turned around a 96 mph fastball, hitting it over the right-field fence for a home run. Not very thoughtful of Strasburg, was it?

"That is immaturity, yes," Strasburg said. "That's not what the best pitchers in the game do. That's something that I'm going to have to learn as time goes on. As I get more experience I'm going to learn how to, when I'm out there in the heat of battle, to not necessarily think 'Okay, I'm just going to rear back and throw this by him.' I'm sure you guys know, that's [Uggla's] M.O. He hits fastballs."

As Strasburg is finding, "knowing" and "doing" aren't the same. But with his physical skills, along with his ability to recognize when he's doing it wrong, Strasburg's sky will have very few limits.

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