VIERA, Fla. - Throwing into a stiff cross-wind on a warm afternoon at Space Coast Stadium, Stephen Strasburg didn't have his best stuff.
He allowed seven base runners in five frames, and needed to work out of jams with runners in scoring position in the first, third and fourth innings.
But Strasburg made it through his five innings of work without allowing a run, and left today's game feeling like he passed his final real test before the start of the regular season.
"I feel ready to go," Strasburg said. "It's just a matter of going out there. Obviously my goal is to be better at the end of the year than I am at the beginning. So it's still a work in progress, and I want to peak at the right time."
Manager Davey Johnson will back off Strasburg in his next start, keeping his opening day starter on a pitch count of around 70. He saw all that he needed to from Strasburg today to indicate that he's good to go come April 5.
"He's awful close," Johnson said. "It's hot down here and he's been working hard, but I like his delivery. I like he was free and easy. Last two times out, he's really been really close. ... Stras threw the ball good. He still doesn't have his great command, but he stayed within himself. He pitched. He's such a perfectionist, he tries to make the perfect pitch. But it was a good day all around."
Strasburg said he was in the "rehearsal stage" today, as he focused on replicating a regular season start instead of just trying to "get his work in", a refrain we hear often from pitchers during spring training.
Still, being the ever-critical Stephen Strasburg, the 23-year-old was critical of his performance.
"I've still got some adjustments," he said. "I'm still working on trying to slow down my time to home plate from the stretch. It's a work in progress. I'm still trying to fine-tune things."
Key for the righty today was being able to make quality pitches when he needed them, allowing him to escape a bases-loaded jam by getting a double play in the third inning and twice stranding runners on first and second.
"I think that's huge, because not every inning is going to be 1-2-3," Strasburg said. "Being able to throw quality pitches in big situations, it's what separates the elite pitchers from the average ones."
Today, with the Nationals sending out many of their opening day position players, their opening day starter delivered a quality outing.
"He looked awesome," second baseman Danny Espinosa said. "He's a bulldog. He's aggressive. He pounds the strike zone, he goes after people. He doesn't back up from anybody. That's what I like to see in a pitcher is a guy that likes to go after the hitters."