Notes: Strasburg, Eaton, Doolittle

February 13th, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- spent a lot more time in D.C. this winter. It's getting harder to make those cross-country flights back to San Diego with a family and growing children who are getting used to the Washington area, plus he enjoys working year-round with the Nationals' staff and at the team's facilities.

For a player like Strasburg, who relies on routine and comfort more than most, any change is notable, but especially as he searches for the right combination and routine that will keep him healthy for an entire season.

"I would say I always try something new," Strasburg said Wednesday, the first day for Nationals pitchers and catchers to report to Spring Training. "It seems like I'm still working on trying to figure out the puzzle. But I think this year was really productive."

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Strasburg said he began his offseason routine almost immediately after the regular season ended in Colorado. It's a practice preaches; not taking a lot of of time off after the end of the year, while at the same time maintaining some light workouts or playing catch at least twice a week throughout the winter to ease your way back into playing shape. The new approach has paid off so far for Strasburg, at least with how he feels mechanically. On Wednesday, he said he feels much better at this point than he did a year ago.

And 2018 was an uneven season for Strasburg, limited to 22 starts by two separate stints on the injured list and a career-high 3.74 ERA. When he returned to the mound in August and September, his fastball velocity was a bit lower than normal, although he still pitched effectively for the most part.

However, the Nationals need Strasburg to be himself this season. They signed in the offseason and they expect Corbin, Scherzer and Strasburg to carry them into the postseason and beyond.

"I think that's the goal," Strasburg said. "As a starting pitcher, you want to be one of those horses that can go out there and make every one of your starts and give the team some quality innings. It kind of throws a wrench in the plans when guys go down and you have to have other guys step up to cover the slack. But we have a lot of depth on this team, too. I'm just going to do my part and trust that all the hard work I put in during the offseason is going to pay off."

An offseason without rehab

loves getting to Spring Training early. In the winter he lives in Michigan, where the weather does not cooperate for him to get into baseball shape. So, shortly after the new year he and his family packed up their truck to make the drive to Florida more than a month early to get settled in, well before position players are scheduled to arrive.

An early arrival was perhaps more important last year, when Eaton rehabbed from a torn left ACL and needed the assistance of the Nationals' medical team. But now, those injuries are behind him, and for the first time since the Nats acquired him in 2016, he is coming into the season with the benefit of a "normal" offseason. Yes, Eaton began last season on time, but it quickly became clear that he was not 100 percent, and eventually he required surgery to remove cartilage in his right ankle.

"You'll manage your whole life with this injury, but there's been no rehabilitation this offseason," Eaton said. "It's been strength. A normal offseason, but continued body maintenance. We've talked at length the last two years about how this will give longevity to my career because I'm forced to do more body maintenance and take a lot more time out for that.

"It's been a focus on making sure I'm ready, and probably in a better way than I have been in the past. It's been a good strengthening offseason, and I feel strong. I'm just ready to get after it."

Foot not a concern going forward for Doolittle

A pinched nerve in his left foot was about the only thing that slowed down during a career year in 2018. He made the All-Star Game and posted a 1.60 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 45 innings, but missed two months after being sidelined with the injury in July. Doolittle worked his way back to the mound last September to pitch in eight games to close out the year, in part for clarity, to prove his health after being sidelined for so long.

That clarity helped him enjoy a normal offseason program -- tweaked to include some strengthening exercises for his foot -- but he enters camp having already thrown six bullpen sessions without any lingering pain.

"I haven't had any issues; I feel normal," Doolittle said. "My workout -- especially my lower body -- it feels really good. I learned a little bit about the structure and mechanics of the way my foot works and my body works, so we do our best to keep it from happening again."