Johnson talks Strasburg limits, Rodriguez, Abad

VIERA, Fla. - Yes, the headline says "Strasburg limits."

Get your jokes out of the way now.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson said that Stephen Strasburg will be on a 60-pitch limit tonight for his second start of spring. Pitching coach Steve McCatty likes to hold all starters to around 45 pitches their first time out, and it ups to 60 pitches for the second start.

Johnson won't push Strasburg tonight, however.

"If he gives me three innings and gets up around 50 pitches, that's good for me," Johnson said.

It was a bit surprising to see catcher Kurt Suzuki in the two-spot in tonight's lineup, but like everything Johnson does, hitting Suzuki second has a clear purpose.

Johnson wanted Suzuki to catch Dan Haren yesterday, and so Suzuki was behind the plate for Haren's two innings of work and then caught three more. Johnson also wanted Suzuki to catch Strasburg tonight, and he wanted to get Suzuki two more at-bats, but didn't want to wear his catcher out. So by hitting him second tonight, Johnson hopes that Suzuki might be able to get his two at-bats in the first four innings, and then he can pull Suzuki before he needs to work too deep into the game.

Henry Rodriguez continues to come along slowly this spring. The right-hander threw earlier today (Johnson thought it was live batting practice, but wasn't sure) and was seen walking around the clubhouse with a giant bag of ice on his right arm.

Rodriguez, who had elbow surgery last August, has been held back this spring by some biceps tightness, putting him a couple weeks behind the other pitchers. But Johnson says he doesn't have any reason to believe that Rodriguez couldn't still wind up ready to go come opening day.

"From what I've seen, his flat ground (throwing) has been outstanding," Johnson said. "He's been throwing long. I think more than anything, it's for him to feel comfortable that the soreness in his elbow that he felt last year is not there. He's always had winter ball coming in here, so with the surgery and with a pretty long spring, I'm sure when he really feels comfortable, he'll be ready. As far as I'm concerned, he's real close."

Johnson was asked about left-hander Fernando Abad, who I wrote about earlier today. Abad didn't have great results with the Astros last season, posting a 5.09 ERA in 37 appearances (six starts), but he's looked pretty sharp this spring, including a 1-2-3 inning last night against the Marlins.

"I was really impressed with the way he threw the other day," Johnson said. "I've always liked his arm and the way he attacked the hitters yesterday, he threw a couple good curveballs, that was great. Command was good. (Pitching coach Steve McCatty) wanted him to go another inning. I said no, I want to see that the day after tomorrow. He'll come back with one day off and be able to throw again. So I was real pleased with that."

Abad is 27, but Johnson isn't really surprised that he's yet to truly establish himself as an effective major leaguer. That has nothing to do with Abad's stuff, because Johnson noted that he really likes Abad's arm.

"I've always heard that good young left-handed arms, especially hard throwers, sometimes it takes them a little longer to get it," Johnson said. "(Sandy) Koufax, it took him 'til he was 26 or 27. So I have a lot of patience with those guys with real good arms that are left-handed.

"I know he's got a very strong arm. If you saw him throwing long, he was throwing from foul line to fence. Pretty much on a line. His issues have been more command issues than stuff. But we'll take a good look at him. He'll be around here a while."

Fernando Abad is not Sandy Koufax. We know this. But Johnson has reason to believe that Abad might not have hit his peak yet. And the Nationals are hoping that he does so soon and they get to reap the benefits.

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