The Washington Times - March 25, 2012, 06:03PM

VIERA, Fla. — Shortly after Stephen Strasburg stood on the mound at Space Coast Stadium Sunday afternoon and held the New York Mets scoreless for five innings, he admitted this start qualified for the “rehearsal stage.”

No longer was he just trying to get his work in without much regard for the game situations or the hitter at the plate or all of that. Sunday he began pitching mentally, at least, the way he figures to on Thursday, April 5, when the curtain goes up on the Nationals’ 2012 season. 

SEE RELATED:


After 84 pitches, only five of which were hit, one walk, one hit batter and five strikeouts, Strasburg admitted, “I feel ready to go.”

In evaluating his start, Strasburg talked mostly of “fine tuning” things. Of slowing down his time to home plate from the stretch and other minimal adjustments to his command. Otherwise, he gave himself a positive review.

“I felt like fastball command was better,” Strasburg said. “Breaking ball was working well, too. And I threw a couple changeups that had the action I wanted them to.

“For me, where I’m at, I’ve still got a couple things I need to work on, and that’s going to continue. But when you step on the rubber, it’s go-time right now.”

Strasburg will make one more Grapefruit League start, Friday, March 30 against the Miami Marlins, and Nationals manager Davey Johnson said he plans to back him off a bit in that outing, not allowing him to throw as many innings or pitches as he has in his past two starts.

“He’s awful close,” Johnson said. “He’s in a really good position to really give me, the first time out, 100 pitches, six innings. And that’s ideally where you want them.”

Strasburg rarely struggled Sunday but he did have to work with at least two men on in three of his first four innings. Being able to make pitches in those situations, being able to bare down and not allow the runners that get on to do any damage, “is what separates the elite pitchers from the average ones,” Strasburg said. And he did that.

“He gets in a jam and he doesn’t want to give up nothing,” Johnson said.

As many of the starters are during the spring, Strasburg was asked how “close” he was to being Opening Day-ready after this latest start. But unlike most, who answer the question solely with regard to their first start of the season, Strasburg, while acknowledging he was ready, took thing one step further.

“My goal,” he said, “is to be better at the end of the year than I am at the beginning. It’s still a work in progress, and I want to peak at the right time.”