Craig Heist, wtop.com
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.-Stephen Strasburg had his best outing of spring going five innings and giving up one run on two hits and a home run as the Mets shutout the Nationals 2-0 at Digital Domain Park.
Strasburg's only blemish was a wind-blown, two-out solo home run hit by Mets right-fielder Lucas Duda to the opposite field. Strasburg threw 85 pitches, 54 for strikes and is right on track with two more starts left for him this spring.
"I located the ball the ball a little bit better, threw some off-speed stuff for strikes and it was just another outing," Strasburg said. "I just wanted to get back out there and get the pitch count up and get to where I want to be to start the season."
Manager Davey Johnson has talked all spring about not only Strasburg but some of his other pitchers being too amped up and overthrowing during their outings but this time Johnson was happy with the way Strasburg went about making that adjustment.
"He pitched with much better command and didn't overthrow, he said. "He threw some quality pitches and later on in the game he had a better feel with the breaking ball, but he stayed within himself and pitched. That's what I wanted to see and I saw it."
"It's something I went into the game wanting to work on among other things," Strasburg said. "It's all about locating so I felt like I made a lot more quality pitches down in the zone. It was a good adjustment and now I'm moving on from here."
Strasburg was a little upset with his pitch count being at 85 after five innings, but the Mets made him work. He threw 23 of his 85 pitches in the third inning. After giving up a leadoff double to Ruben Tejada, pitcher Dillon Gee sacrificed him to third. After a strikeout of Andres Torres, Strasburg had an 11-pitch battle with Daniel Murphy before getting him to groundout to Danny Espinosa to end the inning.
"It's all about going out there and getting a feel for the game," Strasburg said. "Some teams are going to go out there and try to ambush me and swing early because they don't want to get to two strikes and there are going to be teams that are going to want to get my pitch count up. That shouldn't dictate the way I attack hitters, I need to just go out there and keep pounding the strike zone."
"I wasn't worried about him," Johnson said. "He's so intense and he is his toughest critic. You can't talk to him during the game, I mean; he's like talking to that brick wall over there. He is really a competitor and I saw what I wanted to see from him. He threw a lot of pitches and he's right where he needs to be."
Rizzo talks Harper
After optioning rookie outfielder Bryce Harper to Triple-A after Sunday's game against the Tigers, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo gave some insight as to why they sent the 19-year old down and what the thought process is about having him play center field exclusively.
"We'd like to give him an opportunity to see what he can do as a centerfielder," Rizzo said. "There is a hole there for us and to play Jayson (Werth) in center, which we feel he is fully capable of handling centerfield, it would lengthen his productivity because it's less taxing on the body."
Rizzo was pleased with the way Harper played in the Grapefruit League this spring. Harper went 8-for-28 (.286) but he also led the team with 11 strikeouts in 28 at-bats. Harper also missed six games because of a left calf injury which didn't help his cause.
The team decided Triple-A was the best place for Harper because he has shown he could handle Double-A pitching and he had success in the Arizona Fall League in 2011, where he had six homers, 33 RBI and hit .333 and Rizzo feels like that prepared Harper for Triple-A.
The Nationals have been looking for a centerfielder for some time now and the team is going to give Harper every opportunity to win that position in the future. "We've got a terrifically athletic guy who runs well, throws well, and has great instincts for the game and a hole at that position so let's see if he can handle it." he said.
"We're going to see where he is at developmentally, offensively, defensively, emotionally, physically and see when he's ready to come up to the big leagues to help impact the club and we're certainly going to be aggressive about it and let him do it."