Matt Strahm added 20 pounds in transition to starting rotation
Originally published: The Sac Bunt Newsletter
PEORIA, Ariz. — Matt Strahm entered Neosho County Community College in 2010 as a lanky, 150-pound freshman with a fastball well under 90 mph. For the first three weeks of his collegiate career, some 700 miles south of his hometown of West Fargo, North Dakota, he and his teammates embarked on a circuit lifting program--high intensity lifts typically with short rest between exercises.
Strahm laid down on the bench, the 45-pound bar above him with one plate on each side. His goal: one rep of 135 pounds.
“[Our strength coach] would help me get it off, he would let it bury me and just tell me to push on it,” Strahm says.
“I think he was allergic to the weightroom,” says Neosho County Community College head coach Steve Murray.
For three memorable weeks of Strahm’s early career, his circuit training featured dynamic pushing rather than productive strength training. He credits his childhood lessons of “getting work done” for eventually driving him to press one rep of 135 pounds as a 19-year-old. Years later, the same mentality drove him to put on roughly 20 pounds of added weight this offseason as he prepared for the strain his body would endure as a starting pitcher in 2019.
“Well, it’s six eggs blended with orange juice,” Strahm said.
“Dude that’s disgusting,” Murray said.
“Oh I do this three times a day,” Strahm said.
Murray learned about Strahm’s internet-breaking habit of consuming 18 raw eggs per day before lunch in beverage form long before the public. Strahm tries to visit Murray in Chanute, Kan., every offseason for a few days, requesting weight room times at the facility he once struggled to press less than his body weight. Murray considers Strahm a “freak” in the weight room now, a far cry from years ago.
Strahm’s calorie-intensive diet to compliment his rigorous lifting routine also consisted of one pound of red meat per day. He consumed over 2,000 calories of eggs and red meat alone. He usually comes into spring training with an added five or six pounds of weight, but his dedication to gaining this offseason earned him the additional pounds he arrived in spring with when camp started.
“I was crushing it,” Strahm says with a laugh. “I’m not going to eat like that ever again.”
His focus on weight gain even caused him to give up the hobby Murray says his former pupil “lives and dies” to do: hunting. Strahm admits he snuck out once during the offseason and is already planning to “disappear” for a few weeks next offseason when additional weight won’t be his focus.
“I don’t like to talk about it,” Strahm says. “It creates an itch I can’t take care of right now.”
Strahm gained weight so quickly when he started his offseason lifting program that the Padres changed his workout regimen. His initial program caused him to tighten up and lose flexibility. The Padres then requested Strahm come out to Peoria, Ariz., to work with their trainers. Within weeks, according to Strahm, he was back to his normal flexibility and retained his added weight.
The reason for bulking up when transitioning from a reliever to a starter includes both short- and long-term stamina considerations. Reflecting on the weight gain Strahm stressed the season-long benefits of his extra weight rather than the effects that occur as his pitch count rises in an individual start. But for the Padres and manager Andy Green, monitoring Strahm’s start-to-start stamina became a key focus in spring training.
On Mar. 15 in Maryvale, Ariz., Strahm labored in his first inning of work, throwing over 25 pitches (the best starters in baseball average around 15 per inning). He relinquished three runs to the Brewers before grinding through a pair of innings in his third spring training appearance.
“The real challenge for Matt is how he responds to innings like that,” says Padres manager Andy Green. “By the end of the outing you can tell he was fatigued.”
Strahm said the day after his start he lacked fastball command and worked back into counts with each of his three off-speed pitches. The depth of his repertoire gives him multiple options in difficult situations, something a two- or three-pitch starter does not have the luxury of.
The blip in Maryvale did not cause the Padres to rethink Strahm’s viability as a starting pitcher. One week later, Strahm rolled through the Brewers with four strikeouts and three baserunners over five innings of work.
“It’s not necessarily [Strahm’s] arm either, it’s his body,” says Padres veteran catcher Chris Stewart, who caught Strahm during his struggles in Maryvale. “How he’s reacting, whether it looks like he’s forcing the issue because he’s trying to make up for like a lost strike; seeing his physical reaction to how the game is going.”
Murray exuded the same confidence the Padres and manager Andy Green have showed in Strahm this spring. During Strahm’s sophomore year in 2012, he started 14 games and accumulated 99 innings. He threw 11 complete games, three of which were shutouts, and maintained a strikeout to walk ratio of 5.9 (for comparison, Jacob deGrom’s strikeout to walk ratio during his stellar 2018 totaled 5.8--against much better competition).
“He has literally zero problem being a starter or a reliever, he truly doesn’t care,” Murray says. “Trust me, we’ve talked about it 8,000 times.”
Strahm possessed a similar four-pitch repertoire in college with two variations on his fastball but developing his slider has become the biggest difference for the lefty. He started to refine the pitch with the Royals in 2017 before a knee injury and the pitch later blossomed under the tutelage of Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley and former Padres catcher A.J. Ellis, as reported by David Laurila. Now the pitch is his go-to secondary offering, sitting 82 to 86 mph with sweeping lateral bite out of his low three-quarters arm slot.
While some starting pitchers work to establish their fastball early and turn to secondary pitches the second and third time through a lineup, Strahm suggests carrying over the “attack pitcher” philosophy many relievers possess.
“Having four pitches definitely gives you that advantage of maybe you didn’t use a pitch against [a hitter] in the previous at-bat,” Strahm says. “But again, I’m not going to save anything.”
Strahm’s total weight includes his shoulder-length brown hair. The same hair Murray often makes fun of him for having with unprompted memes via text message. Strahm is quick to respond with memes of his own for his former coach.
“I’ll never take hair advice from a bald man,” Strahm says.
The Neosho County Community College baseball team had a short-hair policy, which Strahm cites as the only reason he had short hair when playing for the Panthers. As a major leaguer with the Padres, Strahm has taken it upon himself to enter the discussion of best hair in the major leagues.
Unfortunately, his hair only adds fractions of an ounce to the weight he gained this offseason.
“I started giving him crap about it--cut your hair. Finally, one day he goes, ‘Coach, my wife loves it,’” Murray says. “And I said, ‘Enough said.’ Now I think it’s kind of his trademark look. When you’re a big leaguer, you can do what you want.”