Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Stephen Strasburg's Quiet Fire

Not a single player to ever wear a uniform jersey for Our Washington Nationals has galvanized the fan base quite like Stephen Strasburg. Since the very day he signed a contract, the 22-Year Old has drawn large crowds wherever he's performed or appeared. Currently on the Disabled List with shoulder inflammation, Stephen might return to the Big League mound next Tuesday night at Nationals Park when The Florida Marlins come to Washington, D.C. That is, if there are no setbacks from a simulated game to be thrown in Los Angeles later this week.

Last week, Nats320 chatted with Steve McCatty about Stephen Strasburg. We wanted to ask Washington's Pitching Coach what makes the 2009 Number One Overall Pick tick? How Stephen can better utilize his arsenal of pitches? And find out a little more about Strasburg's mental makeup on the mound. What Steve McCatty terms--Stephen Strasburg's Quiet Fire.

Here is that Nats320 Conversation With Steve McCatty about Stephen Strasburg:

Nats320: While the team was in Milwaukee you were having a conversation with (Radio Broadcaster) Dave Jageler about the maturation process of Stephen Strasburg after the nine games he’s now pitched in the Big Leagues. One of the points you made was that Strasburg needs to elevate his fastball more when he has two strikes on a batter. Why?

McCatty: When you are playing in college or in the minor leagues, the one thing that should be noted is that you want him to just be Stephen. You want him to get out there on the mound and find his comfort level. And not try to get him to do something he’s not use to doing. And that’s something that you learn as you go. Now, obviously, he got here (The Majors) pretty quick. But the value of elevating the fastball is changing the eyesight of the hitter. If you see that fastball up, even at 91 MPH, sometimes they can’t catch up to it. So, I always try to keep everything at the knees and even though it’s coming it firm, just to change the eyesight on one pitch to get the batter to chase--you might get a strikeout there. Or change the eyesight, so you can come back with a breaking ball. Everything is not low, low, low--it’s down and away, up and in, down and in--sinkers.

These guys are the best hitters in the world. So if you start getting on one side of the plate, even though you are throwing 100 MPH, if they are looking there, they are going to hit it. It’s the idea of keeping them guessing as to what you are going to do.

Nats320: Strasburg has that big curve ball that comes almost straight down, but he also has another that comes in from the side.

McCatty: Yes, he has that little sweeper that he does sometimes.

Nats320: Is he using that pitch as effectively as he should?

McCatty: We’ve actually talked about that. To me, I’ve told him it depends on what you are trying to do with it. I don’t think the big sweeper away that stays flat is as effective as one that has the tilt downward. Even guys that throw hard, if they have run on the ball, the hitters will track it and hit it. That is not hard for them to hit. So if you see a ball that is just sort of sweeping over the plate and away from you, if you are not a very good hitter and see him sidearm it--you might think ‘oh, it’s at me.’ And that makes it effective. But these good hitters see that there and say to themselves ‘normally he is here.’

Now, if I see that different arm slot, I know it’s coming and those hitters stay on it. And that’s what hitters look for off pitchers, the differences in the arm slots from your fastball, changeup and curveball. As soon as you find out the guy has a difference between them, you can tell what pitch is coming. That’s why we try to get our pitchers to throw every pitch from the same spot all the time (the same arm slot).

Nats320: How about his changeup? He probably throws the hardest changeup in the game. Should he use it later in the count instead of early to be more effective with it?

McCatty: Well, we’ve talked about that a lot too because it’s a swing and a miss pitch for him. I told him after a couple of games, it’s great, but if you are going to use that pitch when you are behind (in the count)--that’s ok, you’ve thrown it once and you are back to 1-1. If you miss again you are now back to 2-2. So you’ve now thrown it three times to that batter and he’s seen it and you are using up a lot of pitches. Use it (the changeup) as something you want to put a guy away or in a particular situation that you need it, but you don’t have to use it as much as you are. To me, if he can throw a fastball or curveball to get to two strikes, and then use that changeup--that’s the way to do it too. But that fastball of his is a put away pitch. That curveball of his is a put away pitch. So it’s hard for me to sit here and say to him every time you get to two strikes, I want you to throw that changeup. But I think that’s where that pitch is extremely effective for him if he wanted to do it that way. And it’s learning about yourself as a pitcher. What you can do? What you can’t do? And what you want to do?

Nats320: I read the other day where you saw a little attitude in Strasburg when he struck out a certain player who had hit him in a previous at-bat. You seemed to like that.

McCatty: (Smiling like a proud Papa) Oh, Yeah!! I thought it was kind of funny. Everybody teaches that you don’t show emotions on the mound and I understand that because you don’t want to show emotions because it sometimes shows the other team that they are getting to you and they got you rattled. But I like it because that guy hit a home run off of him and the next time--I remember the exact words but I can’t repeat them--take that you #@#@# whatever followed after that. He just looked at him and I said: ‘Hey, I like that.’ You think you got a hit off me, let’s see what happens the next time and from now on. You remember the guys who get hits off of you or knock out home runs. I think I read something about him in college where a team hit a home run off of him and, what, the next 11 guys or something like that he punched out nine of them their next times up. That’s good, smack talking is alright. You don’t have to scream at the guy, but he looked at him and his attitude was where it should be.

Nats320: Overall, he’s pretty cool on the mound though.

McCatty: Yes, he does a great job, but don’t think the fire is not burning and hot just because you don’t see the flames. He's got a quiet fire. It’s rolling pretty good in there. That’s what you want in a guy. You can have all the ability in the world, but if you are not a competitor it’s not going to help. That level and that intensity for him is up to what his other stuff is. That’s why I get upset with others who make comparisons of him to Nolan Ryan, etc. Let him be what he is. And over the long period, we will find out exactly where he stands up against the Clemens’, the Ryan’s, the Koufax’s from the past and all that. I think he’s got a chance to be pretty good, but only time will tell. But if you start saying ‘I want to be as good as Roger Clemens'--which is pretty good--what if you have the chance to be better? I don’t know if he does or not, but I do know he can be pretty good just being Stephen Strasburg!! (chuckling). That’s for doggone sure. He just needs to be that. If he lives up to what he can be and not what everybody else thinks he should be--he’s going to be absolutely fine.

Nats320: Despite his setback and now on the Disabled List, he’s come a long way this year even with all the expectations.

McCatty: Yes, he has. He’s very intense. He’s got a knowledge of the game. He understand situations. He learns quickly and understands. Now sometimes it might happen one pitch after he doesn’t--but he then knows what he should have done. And we talk about that quite a bit. We’ve talked about things on the bench where I try to catch him off-guard asking him what he thinks of this particular situation? How do you get out of it? And he tells me, exactly what I am thinking--which is kind of scary too (laughing). But he has that ability to understand what his ability is--what he wants to do with it. And now he’s learning exactly what he has and what he wants to do with it--here we go fastball, here we go curveball, here we go changeup. He’s learning quick and he studies the game out there.

Nats320: What's been his reaction to being sidelined?

McCatty: He wants to go, but it doesn’t matter what he thinks. I know he wants to go out there and compete. Sometimes you don’t get to do what you want to do. As I said to him: ‘you’ve only been married for a short period of time, so you will learn you will not get to do what you want to do a lot, the longer you are married!!’ That probably helped him out in his marriage right there too. (everyone busting out laughing--that's funny)

Nats320: So he understood why?

McCatty: (with a wry sense of humor) Yeah. Like I always say: I don’t know why, but I just know, it’s no.

With that final answer Nats320's Conversation With Pitching Coach Stephen McCatty on Stephen Strasburg's Quiet Fire concluded.

Photo Credit--Getty Images

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