VIERA, Fla. - It's probably a good thing when a pitcher leaves the mound after his first spring training start feeling like he has a good bit more in the tank.
That's how Stephen Strasburg felt after throwing 44 pitches in 2 2/3 innings today against the Astros.
"I felt good," Strasburg said. "Arm felt strong. The big thing was going out there trying to pound the zone. Obviously, it's been a while since throwing offspeed to hitters and stuff, and I think the biggest thing I noticed was that it very easy for me to go out there, and even going into the third inning, I felt like I could've gone a few more."
All eyes will be on Strasburg every time he takes the mound this spring, but the attention won't be nearly as intense as it would have been if Strasburg hadn't been able to return late in the 2011 season, a year removed from Tommy John surgery.
Strasburg started five games in September, giving him and the organization a baseline to which they can compare his spring training appearances. Now that he's taken the mound once this spring, Strasburg says he feels a lot better off than he did toward the end of last season.
"I'm not really focused on it, but I definitely notice a difference," Strasburg said. "The time off in the offseason, my arm, it just felt a lot stronger. It didn't feel like it was getting tired as fast. It was pretty much a breeze. I kind of was a little erratic at times, but I know that's going to come with the repetitions and fine-tuning the mechanics.
"I think it was big for me going into it last year to know that I came back (with) no setbacks at a year, but that's all water under the bridge. Now it's just getting your work in and preparing for the regular season."
Twenty-six of Strasburg's 44 pitches were for strikes, a number of which left Astros hitters flailing.
"I think when you're trying to pound the zone and they're getting bad looks at it, you kind of see them flinching a little bit on some of the offspeed," Strasburg said. "Kind of being out in front, kind of week contact to the outfield. It's huge, it just says that my ball's moving and now all it is is being able to repeat it and fine-tune it a little bit.
"I just really wanted to go out there and throw strikes. I was a little inconsistent at times, and then it started to come back later on. I knew they were going to be out there hacking, but bottom line is I know I'm going to be able to pound down in the zone (with) my fastball when I get on the bump more times."
Update: The Nationals lost 10-2 to the Astros in their home Grapefruit League opener. More once I'm back from the clubhouse.
Dan Kolko was named MASNsports.com's Nationals beat writer after spending the last four years covering the Baltimore Ravens for MASN and also serving as the Web site's deputy managing editor. A University of Delaware graduate originally from Silver Spring, Md., Dan grew up a die-hard baseball fan and is thrilled for the opportunity to cover the Nationals. Before joining MASN, Dan worked in production at Comcast SportsNet in Bethesda, Md., and also interned at the "George Michael Sports Machine" in Washington, D.C.