Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg thinks new slider hurt arm

WASHINGTON (AP) Stephen Strasburg thinks relying too much on his new slider put stress on his pitching arm and contributed to the injury problems that sidelined him during the second half of last season and the playoffs.

''I fell in love with it,'' the Washington Nationals right-hander said Sunday at the team's annual fan festival, ''because it was working, especially the first half. I mean, it was a quick out.''

Strasburg threw sliders on 17.1 percent of his pitches last season, according to Fangraphs, more than changeups (13.1 percent) or curveballs (12.6). He said that because the slider was not a pitch he was used to throwing, he had trouble delivering it exactly the same way each time.

That altered his motion, and the fact that he went with the slider more often than he should have, he believes, led to a tendon issue in his right elbow - although one that is now resolved, he said.

''I had a new pitch, and I probably abused it. So I need to go back to what I've thrown much longer,'' said Strasburg, sporting a thick beard.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft, now 28, had Tommy John surgery in 2011, then was shut down by the Nationals late in 2012 to protect his repaired elbow. This season, he started 13-0 with a 2.51 ERA, and in the midst of that stretch signed a $175 million, seven-year contract.

He went on the DL with elbow soreness in August, then made one more start before being out again.

Strasburg's final 2016 numbers: 15-4 with a 3.60 ERA and 183 strikeouts in only 147 2/3 innings.

His biggest takeaway? He said he plans to ''do everything I can to make the adjustments to stay healthy for the whole season next year.''

To that end, pitching coach Mike Maddux mentioned that he thinks Strasburg might opt for a tweaked between-starts throwing program in 2017.

''We're going to sit down with him and discuss it,'' Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said, noting that Strasburg had been in town to meet with the team's medical staff and strength and conditioning staff.

''Through spring training,'' Rizzo added, ''we'll devise a workout program to handle the forearm soreness.''

Strasburg will start his offseason throwing, as usual, in late December or early January. Until then, strengthening his forearm is key.

''I did stuff like that in the past, but it wasn't as much as I'm doing right now,'' he said. ''When you get older and you've had Tommy John, you've got to kind of tweak it a little bit, because the muscles in your arm are just going to maybe change a little bit. I've just got to make more of an emphasis on slowing everything down and just making the most of the exercises.''

NOTES: Rizzo did not offer much insight or information on where things stand on a closer for 2017. The GM said he has spoken to the agent for free agent Kenley Jansen ''several times,'' but did not directly answer when asked whether the Nationals had made an offer. ''We're looking for back-end-of-the-bullpen help - and we're looking for bullpen help, in general,'' Rizzo said. ... Trea Turner spoke Sunday about the trade that sent 2016 starting SS Danny Espinosa to the Los Angeles Angels for two minor league pitchers, allowing Turner to return to his natural position, shortstop, after learning to play center field last season. ''Excited to have an opportunity to go back there. That's where I'm more comfortable, where I've played the majority of my career,'' Turner said. ''I look forward to trying to prove I can play there at a high level and be consistent.'' Espinosa would most likely have been a reserve and utilityman with Washington, and Rizzo said: ''I knew he'd be frustrated with the bench role.'' Manager Dusty Baker called the deal, made late Saturday night, ''definitely good for Danny, because he deserves to play every day.''

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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