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How Stephen Strasburg changed his narrative in one postseason run

How Stephen Strasburg changed his narrative in one postseason run

When Stephen Strasburg entered the 2019 season, he had a reputation of fragility and, as a result, unavailability when it came to the playoffs.

The former No. 1 overall pick had missed two of the four playoff series the Nationals had appeared in since drafting him as one of the most hyped pitching prospects in a generation. While he had certainly shown more than a few flashes of the potential Washington saw in him, there were few instances when he was able to put it all together and stay on the field in time for the postseason.

That all changed last October, when Strasburg led the National League in innings (209) and placed fifth in NL Cy Young voting before cruising through the playoffs to the tune of a 5-0 record with a 1.98 ERA and 47 strikeouts across 36 1/3 innings. He also took World Series MVP honors, highlighted by a Game 6 near-complete game, as the Nationals claimed D.C.’s first baseball championship since 1924.

Now, Strasburg didn’t touch his career high in innings (215 in 2014) nor did he claim his best finish for the Cy Young award (placed third in 2017). He even once struck out 12 Chicago Cubs over seven scoreless innings to stave off elimination in the 2017 NLDS while battling the flu.

The signs were all there, but Strasburg’s historic playoff run changed the narrative around his career and cemented him as one of the premiere playoff pitchers in all of baseball.

USA TODAY baseball columnist Bob Nightengale joined NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas, Nick Ashooh and Chase Hughes on Wednesday's episode of the Nationals Talk podcast and weighed in on how Strasburg improved his reputation on a national scale.

“I think [he has] just the warrior mentality now—taking the ball, winning big games, a clutch performer,” Nightengale said. “I think that with the Nationals’ World Series run, I think it benefit his reputation more than anybody else. [He’s now] seen as a tough guy. He’s probably always been that way but I don’t think he had that perception from peers, fans, media, that sort of thing.”

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW ON THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST

Before the year began, critics were skeptical that Strasburg would exercise the first of the two player options in his contract to remain in D.C. rather than test free agency. Fresh off parading down Constitution Avenue, he opted out of that deal and scored a new one: seven years and $245 million, giving him the largest contract in Nationals history.

Of course, there are still plenty of questions surrounding Strasburg’s ability to remain healthy and productive all the way through his age-37 season (the final year of his contract). Prior to 2019, he was on a streak of four straight seasons with fewer than 30 starts and 200 innings—and only once in that span did he eclipse 25 starts and 150 innings.

But with a World Series MVP award on his resume, there’s now no question the Strasburg can perform in the playoffs even after handling a significant workload during the regular season.

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Nationals to hold alternative Summer Camp practices at Fredericksburg ballpark

Nationals to hold alternative Summer Camp practices at Fredericksburg ballpark

Even though the 2020 minor-league season was cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic, there’s still going to be baseball played this summer at the Fredericksburg Nationals’ brand-new stadium.

The Nationals announced Monday that team will be hosting its alternative training camp in Fredericksburg, with the first practices scheduled for Tuesday. Washington resumed team practices on Friday at Nationals Park but called off Monday’s practice after the club didn’t receive the full coronavirus test results for its players and staff.

“The FredNats have built a wonderful new ballpark which will host our affiliate in the future,” Nationals Assistant General Manager for Player Development Mark Scialabba said in a statement. “It will serve as an outstanding facility to help our players continue their development and prepare them to potentially join our Major League Club.”

RELATED: NATIONALS’ DECISION TO STALL WORKOUTS SHOWS JUST HOW PRECARIOUS MLB SEASON IS

The roster of those reporting Fredericksburg will be composed of players in the Nationals’ organization who didn’t make their 60-man player pool. As the team whittles its active roster down to the 30 players allotted for Opening Day, the players cuts will join the rest of the organization in Fredericksburg while they wait for an opportunity to arise.

Opening Day is set for July 23-24, with MLB planning to announce the full schedule Monday at 6 p.m. ET.

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Nationals’ decision to stall workouts shows just how precarious MLB season is

Nationals’ decision to stall workouts shows just how precarious MLB season is

The structure of the Major League Baseball season is built on a wobbly and shallow foundation. It took just three days for it to begin shaking.

The participants in the 2019 World Series cancelled their workouts Monday. Both the Nationals and Astros are concerned with and irritated by the lag in testing results being returned from the league. They followed league protocol Friday by taking their issued saliva tests. Results are supposed to be ready in 24-48 hours. They were not available Sunday. They were not available Monday. Both organizations shut their workouts down.

Mike Rizzo delivered a pointed statement following the testing failures by the league:

“Per MLB’s protocol, all players and staff were tested for Covid-19 on Friday, July 3rd  Seventy-two hours later, we have yet to receive the results of those tests. We cannot have our players and staff work at risk. Therefore, we have cancelled our team workout scheduled for this morning. We will not sacrifice the health and safety of our players, staff and their families. Without accurate and timely testing it is simply not safe for us to continue with Summer Camp. Major League Baseball needs to work quickly to resolve issues with their process and their lab. Otherwise, Summer Camp and the 2020 Season are at risk.”

RELATED: TWO NATIONALS PLAYERS TEST POSITIVE FOR THE CORONAVIRUS

Monday morning began with pom-pom waving about the league’s pending schedule release in the evening. A few minutes later, the Nationals announced their decision to pause their workouts. The Astros followed an hour later. The Angels moved their workouts from the morning to the afternoon in hopes their test results would be in beforehand. Nick Markakis opted out of the season in Atlanta after talking to teammate Freddie Freeman, who tested positive for COVID-19.

“Hearing the way he sounded on the phone kind of opened my eyes,” Markakis told reporters. “Freddie didn’t sound good.”

All of this occurred a day after several players wondered out loud about the stability of the season. Some, like David Price and Félix Hernández, wanted to observe what protocols looked like before they made a decision. They chose to leave after seeing the processes.

Sean Doolittle formulated a personal plan -- he and his wife, Eireann, who is high-risk -- will live apart, but close. Doolittle remained unsure three days into the process if he would continue participating while also saying he thought the on-site medical teams were doing everything possible to keep players safe.

“Like a lot of players, [I think] the opt-out provisions are not great,” Doolittle said. “There’s a lot of players right now trying to make decisions that might be participating in camp that aren’t 100 percent comfortable with where things are at right now. That’s kind of where I am. I think I'm planning on playing, but if at any point I start to feel unsafe, if it starts to take a toll on my mental health with all these things that we have to worry about and just kind of this cloud of uncertainty hanging over everything, then I'll opt out.”

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Monday’s news was more potshot than salve for those concerns. The league, yet to respond about the testing lag, received a clear and public jab from two of its most important franchises, though the majority of teams moved forward with their workouts as planned. Players are beginning to talk to each other about the actual risks. And, Monday’s bumps will reboot discussions at home. Expect more players choosing not to play this week. They already don’t trust the league. That lack of trust has been validated with the early botches in testing. It could switch their prior perspective.

The problem also exists within the most important thing: test results. Players who worked out Sunday in Nationals Park didn’t know if they tested positive Friday. But, they were all back to work, operating under all of the team’s mitigation efforts.

If players can’t trust the process, they can’t trust the testing. Then they can’t trust being on the field for two months or more while traveling. Which means they can’t play baseball in 2020.

The only upshot for the league is this happening now. Their window to fix it is tight. They likely don’t have time to shift to on-site, or at least local, testing instead of running everything through their converted lab in Salt Lake City. But, they can issue an apology, outline their course correction, try to restore faith in their system.

What they can’t do is guarantee anything. Those involved knew that all along. The questions existed around what they were willing to accept. A lag in testing is on the list of things they cannot.

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