Hearing from Strasburg and Zimmerman

JUPITER, Fla. - Stephen Strasburg feels great, and says his mechanics are just about “locked in.”

Ryan Zimmerman is feeling better, but the Nationals third baseman isn’t so sure about manager Matt Williams’ proclamation that he’ll be ready to play the field Sunday.

Those contrasting diagnoses were the takeaways from the Nats’ 2-1 win over the Marlins this afternoon. Strasburg threw four scoreless innings - matching Jordan Zimmermann for the longest outing by a Nationals pitcher this spring - and Zimmerman returned after four days off to drive in the first run of the game with a third-inning sacrifice fly.

“I’m recovering fast, and I feel like I definitely could have gone out there for another inning,” said Strasburg, who allowed two hits, walked a batter and struck out four. “But I want to kind of take it steady and stick to the schedule we’re on.”

In previous springs, Strasburg might have preferred not to have left any gas in his tank. This time, he admitted he could have pitched deeper but deferred to Williams’ carefully constructed plans for each pitcher in camp.

“It’s spring training, and I know these innings do matter in the sense you want to go out there and get your work in,” Strasburg said. “But the real innings that matter are at the end of the year. I’d look pretty foolish if I’m out there trying to lobby for extra innings in spring training and then something were to happen at the end of the year where I wouldn’t be in those crucial games. I’m just trying to stick to the program, stick to the routine and get myself ready for the season.”

strasburg sunset throwing sidebar.jpgOne of the right-hander’s main focuses this spring has been to work on holding runners, something he feels is important for his progression as a pitcher. He got ample opportunities Saturday - the leadoff man in the first three innings reached base, but Strasburg made sure the runner didn’t advance, alternating pickoff throws, glances toward first base and well-timed stepping off the mound to make sure he didn’t fall into any discernible patterns.

In the third, he almost helped the Nats pull off a 3-6-3 double play by keeping Josh Rodriguez close to the bag after a leadoff single. But the relay from shortstop Danny Espinosa to first baseman Adam LaRoche was a hair late, and Terrence Deyleg was safe at first on a fielder’s choice.

“It’s definitely getting a lot better,” Strasburg said of the work holding runners. “It’s just repetition. If I do the same things over and over again and go in with the same mindset of what I need to do, basically make it so when guys are on base, I make it harder for them to get into scoring position, it’s going to help me out over the long run.”

Strasburg mixed in a few sliders today, staying with the pitch even though early on he had trouble with the pitch pulling up a little. He likes the way he’s progressed to this, his fourth spring start.

“It’s just a natural progression,” he said. “You want to go in the right direction. You start out the first couple games of spring kind of feeling for it and I think mechanically, I felt a lot more locked in this time.”

Zimmerman has also been progressing while dealing with general soreness, but he didn’t sound like he’d fully bought in to Williams saying that he was ready to play the field Sunday.

“We’ll see in the morning,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t know if I can sit here and say that right now. Take some ground balls. I took three or four days off, so you don’t want to just go right back in there. The whole point of taking the last three or four days off is to get rid of it right now instead of having to deal with it the whole season. It’s a smart thing to do. If I feel better, we’ll be back in there. If not, we’ll wait until I feel better and get back in there.”

Terming the time off “precautionary,” Zimmerman didn’t see any reason to push the envelope until he feels like he’s fully ready. After the game, Williams agreed that he’d talk with Zimmerman after he took early grounders Sunday morning.

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