VIERA, Fla. (AP) Stephen Strasburg is healthy, yet something keeps reminding him of the time he was recovering from Tommy John surgery.
For three consecutive days, Strasburg fielded questions about his contract status. The Washington Nationals right-hander is set to be a free agent after the season, and while he doesn't see that as a mental hurdle, he bristles at repeatedly talking about it.
''(Reporters) don't ask me these same questions, except when I had Tommy John they were asking me how I was feeling a lot,'' Strasburg said.
Strasburg is feeling good early in spring training and is trying not to approach his contract year differently than any other season. For now, his focus is on pitching and preparing and letting agent Scott Boras handle the contract situation.
''That's why I hired him,'' Strasburg said. ''It's still early in camp, so anything can happen. I can't really look too far ahead or too far in the past. A lot can happen a week from now, two weeks from now, 18 months from now. Who knows?''
Strasburg is in control of a lot of what happens in the next several months. Coming off a year in which he posted a 3.46 earned-run average but the best full-season strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career, another strong showing could put him in position for a big-money deal.
According to a recent report, Strasburg won't cash in right away. Boras told Fox Sports last week that he and the Nationals aren't talking about an extension and that those discussions will wait until the end of the season.
The man who will most often be catching Strasburg this season, Wilson Ramos, is also in a contract year and hopes the 2009 No. 1 pick is part of Washington's long-term future.
''He's got really good stuff,'' Ramos said. ''He's had a pretty good career, so hopefully he'll stay here for a long time. Everybody loves him here, so it's good for him to stay here.''
Ramos said Strasburg did his best early last season when pitching at less than 100 percent. Ramos noticed a change in Strasburg – thinking less and feeling more confident in his pitches – when healthy.
Staying healthy is one team-wise key for the Nationals this season. Strasburg is either the No. 2 or 3 starter in a rotation headlined by Max Scherzer that also includes left-hander Gio Gonzalez.
That's an impressive three-headed monster if Scherzer, Gonzalez and Strasburg are all pitching well. And even though Strasburg isn't the ace he was a few years ago, he's still 27 years old and sees room for improvement.
''You always want to get better,'' Strasburg said. ''I want to just fine-tune everything more than anything. … When I saw that I could execute my pitches to the level that I know I'm capable of, my three-pitch combo is pretty good.
''I'm just trying to keep on focusing on that, focusing on the execution of certain pitches, certain locations and just being able to throw any pitch in any count at any time.''