Stephen Strasburg’s fastball averaged 96 mph last night

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Stephen Strasburg was dominant last night in his first start since undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery almost exactly 12 months ago, shutting out the Dodgers for five innings.

Strasburg averaged 96.7 miles per hour on his four-seam fastball and 95.1 mph on his two-seam fastball, which is pretty amazing considering that Justin Verlander leads all big-league starters in average fastball velocity this season at 95.0 mph.

However, as hard as Strasburg was throwing last night it was actually slightly below his pre-surgery average of 97.3 mph. And that’s by design, as the former No. 1 pick told Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post:

I think I’ve come to the realization that I don’t have to throw 100 to get guys out. Fastball command, I think, is better than it was before. I think it’s just because I’m not trying to dial it up every time.

If the pitch isn’t well located, they’re still going to hit it. I’m still focused on commanding all the pitches, throwing strikes, climbing the ladder, working inside-outside. I’m really trying to be a pitcher out there. I’m not trying to go out there and light up the radar gun every time.

Of course, that’s easy to say when dialing things back a bit still involves throwing 96 miles per hour in your first big-league appearance in 12 months. And as Kilgore notes Strasburg topped out at 98.7 mph on an 0-2 fastball he blew past Aaron Miles.

Strasburg struck out four of the 17 batters he faced last night and also racked up 29 strikeouts in 20 innings while rehabbing in the minors. New ligaments and all, that’s one hell of an arm.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉