Strasburg's first workout draws crowd
Last year's No. 1 overall pick impresses in 'pen session
VIERA, Fla. -- The Stephen Strasburg watch began Sunday in earnest. At least 150 fans were at the Nationals' Spring Training complex to watch Strasburg work out and tried hard to get his autograph, but he politely declined because he wanted to concentrate on getting his work done.
The Nationals even blocked certain areas of the complex so Strasburg would not be interrupted while going into his next station.
Strasburg eventually accommodated the fans after his workout was over.
"It was a good time, and sorry, guys -- for the fans out there -- but I'm there to get my work in, so if you want to stick around afterward, I could sign. It was pretty crazy today," Strasburg told the media.
The attention Strasburg, 21, gets is well deserved. He went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA in 15 starts at San Diego State University en route to being named the 2009 Golden Spikes Award winner. He struck out 195 and issued just 19 walks in 109 innings.
The Nationals then made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. Although there's positive attention surrounding Strasburg, the team plans to guard him from the media, because they want his focus to stay on the field.
"We are going to get more attention this year than we ever had before. There is no question a lot of it is because of the curiosity about Stephen," team president Stan Kasten said. "As you know, everybody wants a piece of him. We can't accommodate everyone we want to accommodate. So we have to help him put a process in place so that nothing interferes with his progress on the field."
All eyes on Strasburg
After the Nationals' pitchers and catchers arrived at the complex at 9:40 p.m. ET, all eyes were on Strasburg. After stretching with his teammates, Strasburg played catch with right-hander Drew Storen before taking comebackers from hitting coordinator Rick Schu. Ten minutes later, Strasburg took fielding practice before the big moment arrived.
"He's a great kid," said reliever Jason Bergmann, who was in the same pitchers' group as Strasburg. "He is really open and receptive. Even on the first day, he wants to learn how things are done, and a lot of guys are willing to help him out. He's quiet about it and goes about his business, but he is here to learn."
|"He has tremendous stuff. He has a good fastball, curveball and changeup. He has a lot of talent. He needs to continue to work and be in the big league [exhibition] games. His future is there. He is tremendous."|
|-- Ivan Rodriguez, on Stephen Strasburg|
Strasburg had a bullpen session which lasted nine minutes. He threw 37 pitches and was able to throw his fastball, two-seamer, slider and changeup, according to catcher Derek Norris. The two have been batterymates since their days in the Instructional League this past offseason.
"His fastball has a lot of life," Norris said. "The thing that stuck out in my mind was his sinker, which has a lot more action than it did five month ago. It's incredible. It's almost like a lefty slider. ... All of his pitches are great to me. I think they are all-plus pitches, but from where he has progressed since October, his two-seamer is incredibly better."
Catcher Ivan Rodriguez was behind Strasburg during the bullpen session and agreed with Norris' assessment about the young right-hander.
"He has tremendous stuff. He has a good fastball, curveball and changeup," Rodriguez said. "He has a lot of talent. He needs to continue to work and be in the big league [exhibition] games. His future is there. He is tremendous."
Even if Strasburg continues to be impressive throughout camp, manager Jim Riggleman hinted that Strasburg may not be on the Opening Day roster, but the club is keeping an open mind about putting him in the rotation.
"I really wouldn't want to say he's competing for a spot in the rotation," Riggleman said. "Everybody's performances will determine where they end up. He could pitch real well down here, but we may feel like the development process should be respected going through the system.
"We don't say that if he goes out and throws good he's in the rotation, but we're not eliminating it, either. We're open-minded. But I think ... we appreciate the process players go through to the get here and he may have to go through it."
Strasburg said he understands if he doesn't make the Opening Day roster, knowing the Nationals have a plan in mind for him.
"On the personal side, it doesn't matter where I'm at," he said. "I just want to try and go out there and answer the bell in every start. They have a plan for me. I trust that they are going to handle me the right way."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.