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2/23/2013 4:15 P.M. ET

Nationals plan to push Strasburg later in spring

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Davey Johnson sat in the visitor's dugout at the Mets' Tradition Field, 90 minutes before the Nationals' Grapefruit League opener, which Stephen Strasburg started, and talked about -- what else? -- innings counts.

The two subjects, Strasburg and innings limits, dominated national headlines in 2012 and should be put to bed by the time the right-hander takes the mound on April 1 for Opening Day in Washington. But for now, Strasburg will be kept under watch like any ace early in a longer-than-usual Spring Training.

Strasburg was on a 45-pitch limit Saturday, using 42 of them over two innings against the Mets in a 5-3 loss. He gave up a two-run homer to Ruben Tejada in the first inning, when he cited overexcitement, before settling down in the second.

"He knows to just work on his location, build his arm up," Johnson said. "I'm not worried about him at all. He threw the ball good."

Of Strasburg's 42 pitches thrown, 24 were strikes. They were primarily fastballs. He went to a full count against four of the nine batters he saw.

"I get the adrenaline going and as much as I try and tell myself to slow down, I just can't," Strasburg said. "I threw a couple good breaking balls there in the second inning. My fastball command got better, sinker seemed to be working pretty well -- probably throw it a little more next time -- but it was a good first outing."

Because of the schedule, Strasburg could make as many as seven Grapefruit League starts. With that in mind, Johnson will probably have his right-hander on a slower program to begin the year.

"You try to have a progression, just a little more each time," Johnson said. "You kind of push him -- I'd say when he's got two more starts, you kind of taper him down. But being that we're starting early, all I want is for him to be ready to throw 100 pitches Opening Day."

Strasburg, of course, was shut down on Sept. 7 last season at 159 1/3 innings while the Nationals were in their first pennant race since moving to Washington.

General manager Mike Rizzo's decision to protect Strasburg after 2010 Tommy John surgery -- something the organization has done and continues to do with its pitchers -- was widely criticized across baseball, and its impact will only be seen in time.

"Last year, I was preparing for the full year and it was unfortunate that they decided to make it a little shorter than I hoped," Strasburg said. "I'm not really doing anything different this year, just the experience I got last year is going to prepare me for the mental grind as much as the physical."

Strasburg was an All-Star last year, going 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 1.155 WHIP. He's been granted a clean bill of health this season, with no restrictions.

"He's our horse," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "I think that's what he wants to be. He obviously carries that and you can see that from the way he works and carries himself around the clubhouse. He wants to be that guy. If that's what you want to be, then here you go, now's your chance to show everybody. He's proven his ability at the big league level, and now it's just about showing that durability. I'm just excited to watch him."

Davey dismisses report on Storen's Game 5 pain

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When asked about a CBSSports.com report that surfaced Friday night saying closer Drew Storen pitched Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division Series against the Cardinals with "excruciating pain," manager Davey Johnson said he was unaware of any such issues.

"The only thing I recall is [Storen] didn't throw many strikes," Johnson said, "and I attribute it to trying to be too fine."

Johnson said he hasn't had any discussions with Storen about any physical problems. Jon Heyman's report says Storen was dealing with back spasms and quotes outfielder Jayson Werth.

"He was having real bad back spasms," Werth told Heyman. "That was the third day [pitching] in a row. He was banged up, man. No one knew. For him to just have the [guts] to go out there, that says a lot about him. ... I'm not blaming his injury. He just wasn't healthy."

Heyman wrote that "only after being confronted with the information did [Storen] offer even a reluctant acknowledgement that maybe he wasn't quite 100 percent, and that maybe he did receive a little treatment."

"I was all right. I was good. I was out there," Storen says in the report. "It's all right, I grinded. I wanted to be out there. I was going to do it no matter what."

Storen inherited a two-run lead in the ninth inning of the decisive game and pitched the Nationals within one strike of the NL Championship Series twice, but couldn't finish the deal. The Nationals lost, 9-7, and were eliminated.

After pitching a scoreless inning in both Games 3 and 4, earning a win in Game 4, Storen was charged with three hits, two walks and four runs in the Game 5 loss.

"A lot of guys are used to having nagging injuries that time of year, but I don't think anybody was overly tired," Johnson said. "I attribute more to inexperience in the situation and trying to do too much."

Neither Werth nor Storen made the Nationals' trip to Port St. Lucie on Saturday for their Spring Training opener against the Mets.

Worth noting

• Right-hander Christian Garcia received a second opinion on his ailing right wrist/forearm, and Davey Johnson said that while the injury is unique, it's "not a major concern."

"He's just gonna have to rest that thing until the tightness -- and it's not anything severe -- but I just told him take it easy," Johnson said. "It's a long spring."

Garcia will take a few days off, but Johnson said he doesn't expect it to be anything that will slow his progress this spring.

• When asked if Bryce Harper hitting in the third spot Saturday against the Mets, and again in Sunday's lineup for Washington's Grapefruit League home opener, was a sign of things to come during the regular season, Johnson said: "He's hitting in the first three [spots]," Johnson said. "But [the regulars are] only going to get a couple at-bats."

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak.‬ This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.