Strasburg joins Nats at camp, plays catch

Strasburg joins Nats at camp, plays catch

VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg arrived at Space Coast Stadium early Thursday. By 8 a.m. ET, he was already in uniform and talking to his teammates in the locker room.

And although he is not expected to pitch in a Major League game until much later in the season because of Tommy John surgery, Strasburg worked out with the pitchers and catchers.

The only thing that was different from the rest of his fellow pitchers was that he wasn't able to throw off the mound. However, Strasburg was able to play catch on flat ground. He had two sessions and threw the ball softly from about 45 feet.

Strasburg has been able to throw the ball on flat ground since late January.

There are times when Strasburg wants to go all out and throw the baseball, but the Nationals keep reminding him there isn't a rush to return to the mound.

"It was just another day. I felt really good," Strasburg said. "I'll just keep going from there. I'm taking it one day at a time as long as there is no setback. I'm supposed to be throwing by now. There haven't been any setbacks so far. We are working really hard to keep it that way.

"I'm not going to go out [and do anything] that is going to jeopardize how fast I'll be able to come back. Whatever the timetable is, I'm going to do what they tell me to do. I'm going to get better as fast as I possibly can. There is no apprehension to throwing a baseball right now."

Strasburg said he had a "weird feeling" throwing the baseball back in January. The baseball almost felt too light, because he spent a month before that bouncing a medicine ball on a trampoline.

"All of a sudden, you pick up a baseball, it's like you really feel it coming out of your hand -- first couple of throws were bad, really low," Strasburg said. "Slowly I started to get that release form back. It seems like every time I go out there, my control is coming back a little bit better. The throws feel good. Hopefully, it keeps going that way."

The way he looks, it's obvious that Strasburg worked hard this offseason. He looks leaner than he did last year. His legs are stronger, but he still needs to build upper-body strength.

"My body is in the best shape I could have put it in this offseason. I'm going to continue to do that," Strasburg said. "I'm going to do my work in the weight room and the training room. So when I do go out there and throw, hopefully my arm feels the best it possibly could."

Before his elbow injury, Strasburg almost immediately became the ace of the Nationals' staff, going 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA in the first 12 starts of his career. He ended up ranking third on the team with 92 strikeouts. But then he was placed on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his right elbow.

Strasburg hurt his elbow on Aug. 21 against the Phillies. With the Nats leading, 5-1, and one out in the fifth inning, Strasburg was facing Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown when -- on a 1-1 pitch -- he grimaced in pain and shook his right arm.

Strasburg then motioned for the Nationals' trainer to come to the mound. Manager Jim Riggleman, pitching coach Steve McCatty and head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz came out to see what was wrong with Strasburg, who wanted to stay in the game but left a few moments later.

Asked if he worried about never having the same success before the injury, Strasburg said, 'That's out of my control. The only thing I can do is put in all the effort that I possibly can. When I was at [San Diego State] -- when I was throwing 88 to 90 miles an hour and I was 250 pounds -- the only thing I was able to do was put in [a lot of hard work]. I couldn't say doing all that hard work was going to produce the results that happened [later in my college career]. I can't say what it's going to be like when I come back. When people work hard, they get rewarded."

McCatty believes Strasburg will be the dominant pitcher that he was before undergoing surgery.

"I fully expect that he is going to recover everything and just be Stephen," McCatty said. "I stressed this to a lot of people: I don't care how hard you throw. If you have it, that's great, but if you throw strikes and the ball has some movement on it, that's what I care about.

"If we care about velocity, we call them throwers instead of pitchers. It's an art form to be a pitcher. If you throw hard, can locate and have a great breaking ball, it makes you that much further ahead. It makes you a great pitcher, not a great thrower."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.