Though rocky, Stephen Strasburg’s season debut a good sign for Nationals

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Though rocky, Strasburg’s season debut a good sign for Nats originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Stephen Strasburg’s return to the Nationals’ rotation didn’t produce the results fans grew accustomed to during his decade-long stretch of dominance from 2010-19.

He exited Thursday’s game against the Miami Marlins having been tagged for seven runs on eight hits with two walks and five strikeouts over four and two-thirds innings. They jumped on him early with three runs in the first then chased him from the game with a four-run fifth.

Yet the start was still a successful one for Strasburg, who was appearing in his first major-league game in 373 days. The right-hander, who made only seven starts between 2020-21, threw 53 of his 83 pitches for strikes and flashed both his trademark curveball and changeup that each had plenty of movement. Most importantly, he made it out of the game healthy.

“I’m gonna be outcome-biased right now but I thought he looked good,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said in his postgame press conference, as aired on MASN. “We talked for a minute, he said he felt good. He missed some location of some pitches but he felt good. We were looking at his mechanics, his mechanics [were] good.

“He didn’t throw the 93-94s but his fastball had a little bit of umph at the end of it. So whether it cut, whether he was throwing two-seamers, it was late, late action.”

Strasburg’s fastball averaged only 90.3 mph, down from the 93-94 mph range that the Fredericksburg Nationals’ video broadcast clocked him at during his pair of rehab starts in Single-A. His four-seamer averaged 93.9 in 2019 before dropping down to just under 92 the last two seasons, both of which saw Strasburg undergo season-ending surgeries.

Even so, Strasburg’s velocity had been on the decline since 2017. He’s shown the ability to succeed as a finesse pitcher. That skillset was on display from the second through fourth innings, when he didn’t allow a hit and racked up all five of his strikeouts. Martinez believes that he’ll start to throw harder as he settles into the normal routine of pitching every five days.

“Now, it’s just a matter of getting him back out there every five days and getting him going,” Martinez said. “I told him, ‘I think the velo will come as you keep going out there, as you keep progressing.’ But for me, I thought he looked good. I thought he threw the ball well. So I think it’s just now getting him back out there, getting him comfortable again up here in the major leagues and getting him out there and getting some repetition.”