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02/19/12 6:15 PM EST

Strasburg eager to earn keep on Nats' staff

VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg arrived at Space Coast Stadium on Sunday and -- unlike last year -- doesn't have to worry about the restrictions that he had to deal with during the exhibition season.

Last year at this time, for example, Strasburg knew he was not starting the season on time because he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery. He did not pitch his first big league game of the year until last September.

This Spring Training is a different story. He will work under the same schedule as the rest of his teammates.

"To have Stephen there, be part of the rotation from Day 1 and be able to be involved in all of the activities -- no restriction -- it's really a good thing," pitching coach Steve McCatty said.

Strasburg, 23, went so far to say that he doesn't want to be given any special treatment and wants to be the guy the team can rely on every fifth day.

"That's how I want to be [with the Nationals]. I don't want the special treatment," he said. ... "When they tell me to go out there and pitch, I'm going to pitch and give it everything I have. When they say I'm done, I'm going to be done. That's the bottom line. I don't expect anything. Everybody knows here that they have to go out and earn it."

Strasburg has been a special player ever since he made his debut in the spring of 2010. That year, Strasburg was the ace of Washington's staff, going 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA before undergoing elbow reconstruction.

After returning from his elbow injury last September, Strasburg allowed four earned runs in 25 innings. In his final start of the season, Strasburg was dominating against the Marlins, throwing six shutout innings, allowing one hit and striking out a season-high 10 batters in a 3-1 victory.

Strasburg followed that performance with a good offseason. He said it felt more natural throwing the baseball than it did the previous offseason.

"My mind is a lot clearer. I just go out there and throw the baseball," Strasburg said. "I don't think -- as much -- about mechanics or anything. I don't feel myself holding back a little bit. ... I think it was more on the mental side. Not necessarily bracing for it -- but just that little thing in the back of your head when you are throwing a pitch. It's like, is everything right? Now, there are no second thoughts at all in my head. It feels more natural now than it did coming right off surgery."

Once the regular season starts, however, Strasburg will be on an innings limit. He is expected to throw 160 innings, the same number his teammate Jordan Zimmermann threw last year after coming off elbow reconstruction.

Like Zimmermann, Strasburg is not going to think about the innings he is going to throw in a game. He is going to pitch until manager Davey Johnson tells him to leave the mound.

"I'm going to go out until they take the ball out of my hands, whether it's pitching a complete game, pitching on three days' rest," Strasburg said. " ... Not saying they are going to do it this year. That's something I'm working toward. At some point if that's the situation, then I'm not going to expect anything less. That's what I expect of myself. I want to go out there and answer the bell every time out."

Adding a healthy Strasburg to a rotation that includes Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson and Chien-Ming Wang could mean a lot of wins for the Nationals.

"Obviously, you see the names, you see the stats and the stuff they have done in their career so far. It's awesome," Strasburg said. "I'm just excited to be a part of it and learn a lot from these guys. It's going to be a fun year. From what I hear, everyone is awesome in the clubhouse. It should be a lot of fun. Hopefully, we'll have great team chemistry."

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.