5 Things to Watch Closely with Stephen Strasburg During Spring Training

Kenny DeJohn@@kennydejohnAnalyst IIIFebruary 12, 2013

5 Things to Watch Closely with Stephen Strasburg During Spring Training

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    Pitchers and catchers have reported—it's finally time for baseball.

    The Washington Nationals will be a team watched closely this spring, especially now that they've had the franchise's first winning season under their belts.

    Much will be expected of them in 2013. That all starts with the preparations they made during spring training.

    Stephen Strasburg, fresh off being shut down in early September of 2012, will be one of the most closely-monitored stars in camp.

    With reports surfacing that he'll be without any sort of limits in terms of innings or games started (via ESPN), Strasburg's inevitable emergence as a legitimate ace has the potential to come at some point in 2013.

    For that to happen, many things will have to occur this spring. Without the proper conditioning prior to the season, it's hard for any player to be in the shape necessary to perform.

    Strasburg will be asked to do that and more as he prepares to lead the Nationals to the NL East crown once again.

His Demeanor

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    Strasburg was not at all pleased about being shut down last season—but then again, what pitcher would? With his team in the thick of the playoff race, Strasburg still felt as if he had something to contribute.

    Whether or not he would have helped is a mystery that we'll all just have to live with.

    He's come into camp with the mind set that the situation is "100 percent over," so that should be a good sign for the Nationals and their fanbase (MASNSports). The last thing either party wants is a disgruntled young star.

    Words are great, but his actions will be what determines whether or not he's truly over last season's events.

    He doesn't have any history of attitude problems, nor has he issued any controversial remarks on the subject of his shut down.

    Even still, it's something that is worth noting early on.

    In a season where Strasburg should be looking to prove something, he'll have to perform with that mindset from the first day of camp to make his goal a reality.

If He Learns Anything from Dan Haren

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    Dan Haren, a 10-year veteran, has been around the block.

    He's by far the most experienced pitcher in the rotation and all the young arms could stand to learn something from the accomplished vet.

    Strasburg should stand to learn the most, however, as both are right-handed and have had the propensity to strike hitters out.

    What Strasburg needs to learn most from Haren is how to put hitters away early and go deep into ballgames.

    Haren compiled over 200 innings pitched from 2005-11 and was capable of striking out at least 175 in every season except 2005.

    While Strasburg will almost assuredly set down more men than that in 2013, it's important that he learns how to pitch into the seventh and eighth innings with some regularity.

    Just look at all of the best pitchers in baseball—Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay, etc. All of them are capable of going nine innings.

    Haren has tossed 16 career complete games. While not a particularly large number, it's still 16 more than Strasburg has compiled.

    Strasburg should learn how to pitch from Haren and utilize smarter strategies when he toes the rubber.

His Last 2 Spring Starts

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    Starters will generally appear in five or six games before spring training concludes, and it's the final two that really make a difference.

    The first two are strictly to get back into a rhythm and to make sure mechanics are in check. Pitchers generally aren't worried about velocity or their overall performance.

    Most pitchers are simply looking to hit their spots and get a feel for all of their pitches.

    Starts three and four are generally a little more technical. Pitch counts are increased and managers sometimes even let their starters pitch through difficult situations when their pitch limit is fast approaching.

    The final two starts are by far the most important.

    Sure, there are still pitch counts and most pitchers won't go more than five or six innings, but their performances can generally be precursors to how they will fare early in the season.

    If he can locate his pitches and get good break on his curveball by the time his final start rolls around, the Nationals should be confident in his abilities come Opening Day—a game in which he'll likely start.

Leadership Capabilities

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    With no limits and the fact that he's the best pitcher on the team, it's time for Strasburg to step up and become a leader in 2013.

    Ryan Zimmerman is the unquestioned leader in the clubhouse. He's been with the team since its inception in 2005 and he's the most talented position player on the roster (well, until Bryce Harper proves he's consistent).

    Pitchers can have a voice too, though, and Strasburg should step up to that role.

    His talent level already makes him somewhat of a leader, but he'll have to lead through example. This spring, he needs to motivate his teammates in drills and games to make them perform to the best of their abilities.

    A strong season will help get him to that role going forward, but steps need to be taken this spring for it to happen.

    Strasburg is one of the faces of the Nationals franchise for the foreseeable future, and he's the type of player that doesn't just "blend in."

    He's the guy that sticks out and should be a visible leader in the clubhouse and on the mound.

His Elbow

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    Strasburg says he's ready to go 200-plus innings, but his elbow will end up being the lone determining factor in that goal.

    He had Tommy John surgery in 2010 and was healthy enough to pitch in five games at the end of 2011, making 2012 his first semi-full season in the league.

    There's no telling how his elbow will hold up during a full season, so not putting too much stress on his arm early on his key.

    He should participate in all the drills and pitch in all of his scheduled games, but he shouldn't turn it on in terms of velocity and break on his curveball until the final two starts of the spring. The best way to preserve his arm for the long haul is to make sure he doesn't overuse it too early.

    If the slightest bit of pain or discomfort is hinted at by Strasburg, look for the Nationals to abruptly shut him down to rest for a few days. They cannot afford to have him pitching through pain and injuring himself further in February or March.

    He hasn't hinted at any problems as of yet, though, so monitoring his elbow is simply a necessary precaution that needs to be taken by the team.