Sky's the limit, and Strasburg has lofty goals
Nationals right-hander aiming for 200-plus innings for first time in young career
VIERA Fla. -- Finally, it was a normal offseason for Stephen Strasburg. For the first time since becoming a big leaguer, the right-hander didn't have to worry about his elbow, which was surgically repaired in September 2010.
Gone are the questions about the Nationals' prized pitcher being on an innings limit. Now that he is 100 percent healthy, Strasburg is expected to be the team's Opening Day starter and pitch at least 200 innings for the first time in his career.
"It's going to be a challenge. It's going to be a test, and I think I'm ready for it," Strasburg said. "I trained really hard this offseason. Hopefully, I'll answer the bell, throw 200-plus innings and be the guy in the rotation that can be reliable -- go six, seven, eight, hopefully nine innings every time out this year. ... I want them to know that I'm going to be 100 percent ready. If you want me to go out there and go for another inning, I'm your guy."
Strasburg was reliable last year, even though he was limited to 159 1/3 innings. He started 28 games and had a 15-6 record with a 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts.
Strasburg knew before the season started that he would be limited because of Tommy John surgery. Even worse, he would miss the postseason, where the Nats were eliminated in the National League Division Series by the Cardinals.
Strasburg now says that he is over the fact that he was unable to help his team advance in the playoffs. He already is thinking about helping the Nationals go far in the postseason this season.
"I think it was fun last year watching it. I'm moving on," Strasburg said. "I'm excited to get into the season as far as having a target on our backs now. It should be a good test for all of us."
Although Strasburg had a productive first year, he isn't satisfied with what he accomplished in 2012. He wants to improve his fastball command and do a better job of holding runners on first base.
"It's a little bit of everything. You can always get better in this game," Strasburg said. "I want to be able to throw my changeup a little bit less in certain counts, keep relying on my fastball more, rely on my sinker more so I can keep my pitch count down a little bit more and go deeper in the ballgame."
Strasburg has already thrown six bullpen sessions this spring, and will have another one Tuesday with pitching coach Steve McCatty observing. Strasburg talked to McCatty at least once a week during the offseason.
"He'll ask me if I'm throwing," said Strasburg. "I tell him, 'Yeah, I am.' He says 'OK, good. Don't throw too much.' … I guess he is going to make an appearance tomorrow for my bullpen [session], so we'll see how that goes."
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.