Strasburg not pushing to make opening day

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Stephen Strasburg doesn’t intend to push his recovery from thoracic outlet surgery to be ready for opening day.

“I think for me it’s about sticking to the program,” the Washington Nationals pitcher said Tuesday after facing hitters for the first time since the operation last summer. “My routine is having a six-week spring training. I think of all years to try and be aggressive, I don’t know if it’s necessarily the right year or the right time to do it. My goal is to be ready when I’m ready and be there the rest of the way.”

He threw two- and four-seam fastballs, curveballs and changeups to Victor Robles, Lane Thomas, Juan Soto and Josh Bell.

“I thought he looked really, really good,” catcher Riley Adams said. “Good command of all his pitches.”

Strasburg came off the mound smiling.

“It was definitely exciting,” he said. “You can throw bullpens all you want, but as soon as you get a hitter in there, the competitive juices start to flow. That’s kind of one thing I’ve been lacking for a bit. It’s nice to get that feeling back and get accustomed to it again.”

The 33-year-old right-hander was MVP of the 2019 World Series for the Nationals after going 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA. He was 0-1 in two starts during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, then 1-2 with a 4.57 in five starts in 2021, the last on June 1.

Dr. Greg Pearl operated on July 28.

“I was actually really excited to see him finish his 25 pitches and walk off the mound kind of like we’ve always seen Stephen walk off the mound, with that little bit of chip on his shoulder,” manager Dave Martinez said. “It was a good day.”

Strasburg is 113-61 with a 3.21 ERA during 12 major league seasons. A normal spring program would lead to Strasburg missing at least the first week of the 2022 season.

“The biggest thing for us, as you know, is to keep him on the mound and keep him healthy,” Martinez said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to do that.”

Strasburg is tentatively slated to throw batting practice Friday, about 40 pitches around a break to simulate two innings.

“This is kind of a tough situation for everybody,” Strasburg said. ’I’m at this point in my career where the last thing I want is to try do is speed up the process here just to try to pitch a couple weeks earlier.”

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