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Aces up: Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer help younger Nationals pitchers

Washington Nationals pitchers Stephen Strasburg, right, and Patrick Corbin throw bullpen sessions during spring training baseball practice Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)
Washington Nationals pitchers Stephen Strasburg, right, and Patrick Corbin throw bullpen sessions during spring training baseball practice Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)
By Howard Fendrich Associated Press

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Stephen Strasburg chatted by his locker early in spring training with Wil Crowe – just a World Series MVP and a non-roster invitee for the Washington Nationals plopping themselves on a pair of folding chairs to talk shop during camp’s ample idle time.

Strasburg discussed “little pointers and some cues” about throwing out of the stretch, Crowe said, before an unexpected offer arrived.

“He said to meet him outside the next morning at 8, on the mound,” said Crowe, a 2017 second-round draft pick from the University of South Carolina who split 2019 between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Fresno. “It was just me and him; no coaches, no staff. He watched me do my movements and try to take what he does and blend it into what I do.”

Fans know what Strasburg and three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer can do when they’re on a mound for the Nationals, whose exhibition schedule resumes Thursday against St. Louis after Wednesday’s day off. Their bona fides make that obvious. Less so is what that pair, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez – the starters who form what Washington manager Dave Martinez jokingly calls the “Four Amigos” – do behind the scenes to teach less-experienced pitchers in the organization.

“It’s just a part of being a good teammate and caring about the guy next to you. As you get older, all the players around you seem to get younger and younger. You just kind of have to make yourself available. It’s important for the young guys to want to speak up and ask questions, because once they realize that we’re very approachable – I think we all are – they’ll see you can learn from anybody,” said Strasburg, who is 31 as he enters the first season under a $245 million, seven-year contract.

“I can learn something from a Wil Crowe, purely because his path to this point could be completely different from what I had to go through. You can get helpful feedback from anybody in this clubhouse,” Strasburg said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean they should listen to everything we have to tell them – or that we can’t listen to things they’ve picked up along the way.”

Martinez and his pitching coach, Paul Menhart, refer to Strasburg, et al., as assistant coaches.

Scherzer, 35, described the process as giving others “crumbs at a time,” because “when you figure it out yourself, it’s a lot more powerful than when somebdy else tells you how to do it.”

They give tips on arm slot or grips, say, between-start routines or pitch sequencing.

Just like they got such advice, years ago.

Separately, Strasburg and Scherzer both mentioned Dan Haren as someone who guided them when he was their teammate – Strasburg in Washington, Scherzer in Arizona.

“They’re giving back to the next generation. When Max goes into our minor league facility when their spring training starts, which he’s done the last three years, and teaches them ‘Pitching 101’ and what he does and how he prepares and that type of thing, that’s invaluable,” Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said. “He’s up at 6 in the morning to come down here and talk to 50 minor league pitchers that are trying to take his job. … If you’re a pitcher with any kind of sense at all, why wouldn’t you just try to mirror what these great pitchers do? If just one thing wears off from Stras or Max or Patrick or Sanchez, you’ve gained a lot.”

Austin Voth, competing to be Washington’s No. 5 starter, said Scherzer is “always trying to get me to pitch from the ball of my foot,” for example. Voth said Strasburg showed him how he holds the baseball for a changeup.

Another righty trying to earn that final rotation spot, Joe Ross, said Strasburg gave insight into how he finishes his curveball. Ross spoke to Sanchez about his butterfly changeup. Scherzer, Ross said, explained “the mentality of kind of attacking hitters and setting up pitches and things like that, when you can miss and where you can miss.”

“There might be things you don’t even really think about, but their point of view can rub off,” Ross said, “and then you take it into a game and it might immediately affect your stuff or how you do.”

The morning Strasburg worked with the 25-year-old Crowe – on positioning of legs and feet, mainly – Sanchez was at a mound nearby, tutoring another non-roster invitee.

“Every one of them is willing to help,” Crowe said. “I was just trying to pick (Strasburg’s) brain and get as much knowledge as I can from him, because he’s been there, done that. I want to be the best pitcher I can be, and I know he’s got a lot of knowledge.”

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