Nationals

Nationals

The 2018 season was a tough one for Nationals' ace Stephen Strasburg health-wise. He had two separate visits to the Injured List, one due to shoulder inflammation and the other with nerve damage.

So in September with the Nationals all but out of playoff contention, Strasburg walked into his manager Davey Martinez's office with one simple request: to be shut down for the remainder of the season.

Martinez didn't oblige.

"Two years ago, he got hurt," Martinez told The Sports Junkies. "He came back, his velo[city] was down. He came into my office and said he has to shut it down in September. I looked at him and said, 'No you're not.'

"I didn't want him to do that," the manager continued. "I wanted him to go out there and finish the season and just go out there and do what he can."

Strasburg cited the slower velocity and the ball just not coming out right as the reason he wanted to shut it down. The ace was infamously shut down in September of 2012 coming off Tommy John surgery, just weeks before the Nationals' first playoff appearance. 

But this time was different. Martinez convinced Strasburg to finish the season and work on all of his pitches.

"I said, 'Hey. This is your opportunity to go out there and pitch. Learn how to pitch. Use all your stuff,'" Martinez said. "I watch this guy, and he has incredible, incredible stuff. To his defense, he did that, and he had a good September."

 

What happened during the remainder of the season changed Strasburg's career. No. 37 started six games in September of 2018, going 3-0 while posting a 2.61 ERA and 45 strikeouts, the most in any month he had in 2018.

From there, Strasburg dedicated the winter heading into the 2019 season on building from his strong finish. 

"He took it upon himself all winter long, 'This is what I'm going to do. I'm going to build [on this],;" Martinez said.

Strasburg stayed healthy the entire 2019 season, turning in one of the best campaigns of his career. The ace won a career-high 18 starts while throwing 251 strikeouts, the most he's thrown in any season of his career. Strasburg finished fifth in Cy Young voting and 15th in the NL MVP race.

As the Nationals entered their Wild Card matchup this past October with the Brewers, Martinez approached Strasburg again.

"I can remember sitting in my office with Stras, telling him, 'Hey, I'm going to ask you to do something you might not be comfortable with. But it's up to you, you have to be honest with me. I'm going to ask you to come out of the bullpen. Can you do it?'" Martinez said. "He looked at me and went, 'Let's go for it. I'm ready.'"

Strasburg came on in relief for starting pitcher Max Scherzer in the Wild Card game and threw three scoreless innings, as the Nationals topped Milwaukee 4-3 to advance to the NLDS. It was Strasburg's first bullpen appearance of his MLB career.

Over the next month, Strasburg put together the best stretch of his career; his postseason was one of the best of any starter in Major League Baseball history. He finished October 6-0 with a 1.97 ERA, striking out 47 hitters and walking just four. Strasburg's incredible efforts in the World Series, notching two wins while allowing just four earned runs over 14.1 innings -- including an 8.1 inning gem against the Astros in Game 6 -- earned him World Series MVP honors.

Strasburg signed a large seven-year contract this offseason to stay in Washington, one that all Nationals fans probably agree is worth every penny. In his first spring training since winning the title, Strasburg has been looser than ever.

"He's been incredible," Martinez said. "Even this spring, he's been more outgoing, talking a lot more."

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