Strasburg, Nationals excited to get started


VIERA, Fla. (AP) -- Stephen Strasburg is looking forward to the next phase of his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

The 23-year-old right-hander walked into the Washington Nationals' clubhouse Sunday, the day for pitchers and catchers to report for spring training, and said his arm feels much better than it did during the five September starts he made last season.

"It feels so much more natural now than it did coming off the surgery," Strasburg said. "My mind's a lot clearer. I just go out and throw the baseball. I don't think as much about mechanics or anything. I don't feel myself holding back a little bit. I just let it go."

Strasburg was the overall No. 1 draft pick in 2009. He got off to a sensational start in the majors in 2010 before injuring his right elbow and having major surgery.

Strasburg said he hasn't been told by the team how many innings he will pitch this season. It's expected Washington will limit him to around 160, as it did when Jordan Zimmermann returned last year.

I'm going to go out and throw until they take the ball out of my hands, whether it's throwing a complete game (or) going on three days' rest," Strasburg said. "That's something that I'm working hard to be able to do. I'm not saying they're going to do it this year, but that's something I'm working toward."

Strasburg also made it clear that while he expecting big things from himself, he's not expecting to be treated as the diva of the Nationals' pitching staff. He just wants to fit in.

"The one thing that I really benefited from in college (at San Diego State) is that they treated me just like I was another donkey," Strasburg said. "That's how I want to be here. I don't want the special treatment. When they tell me to go out there and pitch, I'm going to give it everything I have. When they say I'm done, I'm going to be done. That's the bottom line."

Having Strasburg back, plus the additions of starters Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson -- not to mention reliever Brad Lidge -- has created a lot of expectations for a team that won 80 games last season, an 11-game improvement over the year before.

The Nationals finished third in the NL East in 2011 and hopes for this season are high, despite lingering questions about whether or not outfielder Jayson Werth will bounce back from a disappointing year and if 19-year-old rookie outfielder Bryce Harper will make the team.

"There's a lot of outside buzz about us this year," closer Drew Storen said. "It's exciting. We're just excited to get here and try to live up to it."

Zimmermann said he believes the Nationals will have one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball in 2012.

"I think it's time to turn the page and put a winning ballclub in DC," he said. "We had some key additions this offseason and I'm pretty excited to get going."

NOTES: Shortstop Ian Desmond will wear No. 20 this season in honor of former manager Frank Robinson, whom he considers the first person in the organization to really believe in him and mentor him. Also, because it was Barry Sanders' jersey number, one of Desmond's NFL favorites. Desmond previously wore No. 6 for Washington. ... Zimmermann, who was limited to 161 1-3 innings last season in his first year back from Tommy John surgery, said he hopes to throw 200 innings this season. ... In preparation for the season, Strasburg said he not only hit the weights and did some running, he also did a lot of yoga to improve his flexibility, hoping that would allow him to recover faster from each outing.