Stephen Strasburg has 4 Ks in 6 batters in first appearance since August

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports Images

Stephen Strasburg pronounced his fastball command better than it was before his carpal tunnel surgery and said his first game action in nearly seven full months essentially was the same as any Grapefruit League debut after throwing 1 2/3 innings Tuesday night against the Houston Astros.

“It didn’t really feel any different than it has in past springs, so I guess, in a way, that’s a relief,” said the 2019 World Series MVP, who made just two starts and pitched only five innings in 2020.

In 2019, he led the NL with 209 innings and 18 wins, then went 5-0 in the postseason – no pitcher ever had done that – while helping the Nationals win the franchise’s first championship.

“This isn’t my first rodeo when it comes to injuries and stuff,” Strasburg said on a video conference with a chuckle, knowing he has made more than 10 trips to the injured list over the years and had Tommy John surgery in 2012. “So I’m kind of at a point where I’m going to go out there and give it everything I have and roll with the punches.”

The 32-year-old righty hadn’t faced opposing hitters since Aug. 14, when he left an appearance against the Baltimore Orioles after 16 pitches. He went on the IL the following day, was shut down a week after that and soon enough was having an operation to fix what was causing his thumb and, eventually, entire pitching hand to go numb.

On Tuesday in West Palm Beach, Florida, Strasburg said he tried all of his types of pitches; as usual in the spring, he said, the curveball will be the last to come along.

He retired five of the six Astros he faced while throwing 38 pitches. That included four strikeouts – of Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, Kyle Tucker and Myles Straw – and a fielder’s choice groundout from Michael Brantley.

The only Houston batter who came to the plate while Strasburg was on the mound and didn’t record an out was Jose Altuve, who walked with one out in the first inning.

“You try and read the swings,” Strasburg said, “and I was pretty happy with the types of swings they were taking at my pitches.”

Before the game, Nationals manager Dave Martinez said he was aiming to give Strasburg a chance to reach a pitch count of about 35 in what is expected to be the first of five spring training appearances before opening day on April 1, just like the other leading members of Washington’s rotation such as Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin.

“I’ve watched him. His mechanics are clean. Everything is good. His routine’s been the same,” Martinez said. “He’s worked really hard – a testament to why he could come today and get going and hopefully get him those five starts with no issues and get him ready for the

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.