10 key questions from Strasburg's return

June 10th, 2022

MIAMI -- One year and eight days since his last Major League start, Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg made his highly-anticipated 2022 season debut on Thursday against the Marlins at loanDepot park.

In his return from thoracic outlet recovery, the 33-year-old delivered 83 pitches over 4 2/3 frames in a 7-4 loss. The box score details seven runs off eight hits, two walks, one wild pitch, one hit batter, five strikeouts and a fifth-inning home run that prompted the end of his outing.

Zooming out to the big picture, the completion of this first step is more significant, though, for the 2019 World Series MVP who was limited by injuries to 26 2/3 frames the past two seasons.

"I'm going to be outcome-biased right now,” said manager Dave Martinez. “But I thought he looked good, he really did."

How did Strasburg feel back on the mound?
“It’s crazy -- I feel like last time I was out there [June 1, 2021], I don’t know, I guess now everybody throws 96, 97 [mph],” Strasburg said with a smile. “But it felt good, and I’m excited to learn from it and get back out there for the next one.”

What did Strasburg throw?
Strasburg’s fastball topped out at 91.7 mph, and he induced six whiffs on the Marlins’ 30 swings.

“His changeup’s nasty,” Martinez said. “The funny thing is, he didn’t use it the first inning and then he didn’t use it again the fifth inning. He understands that he’s got to throw that. … Some of the fastballs they were a little late on, he had a little life at the end of his fastball, so that was good to see.”

How does Strasburg want to improve?
Strasburg is looking forward to settling into his routine and getting his adrenaline going pitching in more big league games. He also echoed Martinez when it comes to honing in on pitch selection for his next outing.

“I think fastball command could have been better in certain spots there,” Strasburg said. “I felt like the changeup was working pretty well -- probably could have gone to that a little bit more often early on. Then, I think the strike breaking ball was good, the chase one was a little bit too big of a miss. All in all, it’s a place to start and I’m going to try to build off it.”

Why didn’t Strasburg have a pitch or innings limit?
Martinez had emphasized the Nationals wanted Strasburg to be full-go when he returned. A trio of Minor League rehab starts served as a ramp up, and Strasburg reached 83 pitches across six innings Friday in Triple-A. He matched that total on Thursday, only five pitches shy of his 2021 season-high.

“It’s good to just go out there and compete and go as long as you can and as hard as you can,” Strasburg said. “Today, it wasn’t very long, but you’ve got to start somewhere. So, I’ll try to be more efficient next time.”

What did Strasburg’s opponent see?
Said Marlins manager Don Mattingly, “We didn't quite know who we were going to face tonight. I know with the name and everything else, but you never know, when a guy hasn't pitched in a couple of years, what it's going to look like. Again, we talked about trying to face who we saw tonight and guys did a nice job.”

How did Martinez determine the starting catcher?
Strasburg already was shut down when the Nats acquired Riley Adams from the Blue Jays last July, but Martinez said the two have been able to spend time talking with Keibert Ruiz catching the majority of the games. Martinez also liked the matchup between right-hander Adams and the Marlins lefty starter, Trevor Rogers.

“If it works out, it could be something that we’ll continue to do,” Martinez said. “But like I said before, Keibert and Riley both are well suited to catch Stephen and everybody else.”

How did the Nationals clear a roster spot?
Washington optioned lefty reliever Sam Clay to Triple-A to make space on the 26-man roster when Strasburg was reinstated from the 10-day injured list on Thursday. Clay had been called up one day earlier when right-hander Joan Adon was optioned to Rochester.

What are Strasburg’s teammates hoping to learn from him?
After Josiah Gray started against the Marlins on Wednesday, the 24-year-old was looking forward to seeing how a veteran Strasburg approached the same lineup. Gray, who considers himself “a baseball junkie,” said being in the starting rotation with Strasburg is going to be “a lot of fun.”

“To be able to talk to him in between outings is going to be super beneficial to just bounce things off of him,” Gray said. “[I] feel like I can learn a lot more in between outings now that I have a guy with that much experience to be able to ask questions and be a sounding board.”

How much has changed since Strasburg’s last start?
Of the 17 players who appeared in the June 1, 2021 game in Atlanta, six -- Strasburg, Juan Soto, Josh Bell, Victor Robles, Yadiel Hernandez and Paolo Espino -- are still on the 26-man roster.

What’s next for Strasburg?
A healthy Strasburg is returning to the Nationals’ starting rotation on a regular five-day schedule. He joins Patrick Corbin, Erick Fedde and Gray. The Nats’ have a vacant spot on Sunday, wherein starter options include Espino and Evan Lee.

“We’ll go through this week with his routine, we’ll see how he feels, but he’s back,” said Martinez. “And I love having him here.”