Nats’ Strasburg has strong 1st spring start

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg throws during the first inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros, Saturday, March 3, 2018, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) Stephen Strasburg didn’t exactly ease into his first Grapefruit League start.

Washington’s big right-hander flashed a couple of 98 mph fastballs and threw a few more at 97 in Washington’s 8-1 victory over Houston on Saturday.

”Have some dad strength in there,” Strasburg said. ”I guess it just shows all the hard work in the offseason, it’s still there. It’s just about being smart and listening to the arm, putting in the work in between starts and keeping it there for the whole season.”

Strasburg elected to skip what would have been his first spring start, choosing to throw a live bullpen at the Nationals spring training complex rather than make Monday’s three-hour bus ride to Lake Buena Vista to face Atlanta.

On Saturday, Strasburg allowed one run and three hits while striking out two in two innings. He was also charged with a wild pitch and an error on an errant pickoff attempt.

”I felt really strong,” Strasburg said.

Pitching only from the stretch, an approach he began last spring and carried through the playoffs, Strasburg threw 17 of his 29 pitches for strikes. After leaving the game, he trotted to the bullpen, where he threw approximately 20 additional pitches.

”They said if I wanted to go down there and throw some more, feel free,” Strasburg said. ”So I did.”

A three-time All-Star, the 29-year-old Strasburg was 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA last season. He is on pace to start the Nationals second game of the season on March 31 at Cincinnati.

As of now, Washington manager Dave Martinez doesn’t plan to give the oft-injured starter additional rest early in the season to keep him fresh for an expected playoff push.

”When we start the season, we’ll see,” Martinez said. ”The beautiful thing about it is we have a lot of days off early on, so it might give him an extra day’s rest or so in between.”

Saturday’s game also marked the return of star outfielder Bryce Harper to the Nationals lineup.

Sidelined since Feb. 27 after having his in-grown right big toenail removed, Harper went 0-for-2 with a walk as the Nationals’ DH.

Harper swung and missed at three pitches in his first at-bat, the final one being a 96 mph fastball from Justin Verlander. Verlander was dominant as he allowed two hits and struck out five in three innings.

Harper had the ability to test his toe on the bases after he walked to lead off the fourth inning. Harper advanced to second on Miguel Montero’s single and went to third when Jose Marmolejos grounded into a double play.

Harper even attempted to steal second, but Montero fouled off the pitch.

”That’s a good indication that he feels OK,” Martinez said. ”So that was good to see.”

Harper finished his day by striking out looking on a 96 mph fastball from Matt Ramsey.

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