It’s a stretch: Nats’ Strasburg may ditch windup

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) Stephen Strasburg may emulate closers and pitch only from the stretch this season.

Strasburg avoided a windup for all 23 of his pitches in a 2-1, 10-ininng loss by a Washington split squad to St. Louis on Friday, his first appearance of spring training.

“I’m not trying to reinvent myself, but just trying to simplify things as much as I can and be able to repeat my mechanics,” Strasburg said. “I feel like as I’ve gotten older, for whatever reason, the windup’s just been an issue as far as getting that right feeling of staying on the mound, not drifting too much toward first- or third-base side on my leg kick, and sticking the landing a little bit better.”

Strasburg came up with the idea after watching Texas’ Yu Darvish and Cleveland’s Carlos Carrasco. He approached pitching coach Mike Maddux with the idea at the start of spring training.

“If you can keep and repeat your arm slot, theoretically it’s supposed to put less stress on your arm,” Strasburg said.

He didn’t rule out a return to the windup.

“I feel like I’ve always been able to maintain my stuff out of the stretch even when I would just slide step exclusively,” Strasburg said.

On a gloomy afternoon with a 20 mph wind, Strasburg retired the side in order on 10 pitches in the first, striking out Tommy Pham swinging and Randal Grichuk looking.

Johnny Peralta managed a one-out line-drive single in the second, but Strasburg promptly induced a one-hop comebacker from Jose Martinez that turned into an inning-ending double play.

“I didn’t think was a big deal, really,” Washington manager Dusty Baker said of Strasburg’s stretch. “As long as he feels comfortable, and as long as he was throwing strikes – it looked like it didn’t change his velocity, and his location was actually better.”

Strasburg threw 16 strikes.

“I pounded the strike zone,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to go out there and do.”

The 28-year-old right-hander has managed to make at least 30 starts only twice in his seven major league seasons, and his 15 wins last year matched his big league best.

Strasburg won his first 13 decisions last year, but a partially torn pronator tendon in his forearm caused his seventh trip to the disabled list and limited him to 24 starts.

“We just want him healthy, because had he not gotten hurt, we might be talking about him as the Cy Young instead of (Max) Scherzer, or one-two in the voting or something,” Baker said. “Yeah, we definitely need him.”

Oh good, it’s “Yasiel Puig is a showboat” season

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With the Los Angeles Dodgers punching their ticket to the World Series, Yasiel Puig is now going to be the subject of commentary by people who tend not to care about Yasiel Puig until it’s useful for them to write outraged columns or go on talk radio rants about baseball deportment.

We got a brief teaser of this last night when, after scoring the Dodgers’ ninth run on a Logan Forsythe double, TBS analyst Ron Darling criticized Puig for his “shenanigans” and “rubbing it in.” Never mind that his third base coach was waving him home and that, if he didn’t run hard, he was just as likely to be criticized for dogging it. In other news, baseball teams don’t stop trying in the fourth inning of baseball games, nor should they.

That was just an appetizer, though. The first real course of the “Puig is a problem” feast we’re likely to be served over the next week and a half comes from Phil Mushnick of the New York Post, who wrote it even before the Dodgers won Game 5 last night:

If you were raised to love baseball and to recognize the smart, winning kind from everything less, the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig is insufferable. As the sport is diminished by professionals who disregard the basic act of running to first base as a matter of style, Puig, an incurable home-plate poser, often makes turning doubles and triples into singles appear effortless . . . In the postseason, Puig continues to behave as if he’s in the Home Run Derby. He even seems to relish his high-risk flamboyant foolishness despite frequent backfires.

This may as well be a fill in the blanks column from 2013 or 2014, when “Puig is a flashy showboater who costs his team more than he gives it” columns were all the rage. It ignores the fact that Puig, commonly dinged for being lazy, worked his butt off in 2017, particularly on defense, to the point where he has a strong case for a Gold Glove this year. It also ignores his .455/.538/.727 line in the NLDS sweep of the Diamondbacks and his .389/.500/.611 line against the Cubs in the NLCS. In the regular season he set career highs for games, homers, RBI, stolen bases and almost set a career high for walks despite having seventy fewer plate appearances than he did back in 2013 when he walked 67 times. He’s not the MVP candidate some thought he might be, but he’s a fantastic player who has been a key part of the Dodgers winning their first pennant in 29 years.

But the dings on Puig from the likes of Mushnick have rarely been about production. They’ve simply been about style and the manner in which he’s carried himself. To the extent those issues were legitimate points of criticism — particularly his tardiness, his relationships with his teammates and his at times questionable dedication — they have primarily been in-house concerns for the Dodgers, not the casual fan like Mushnick. On that score the Dodgers have dealt with Puig and, by all accounts, Puig has responded pretty well. An occasional lapse to be sure, but nothing which makes him a greater burden than a benefit. I mean, if he was, would be be batting cleanup in a pennant-clinching game?

So if the beef with Puig is not really about baseball, what could Phil Mushnick’s issue with him possible be?

I, for one, have no idea whatsoever.