- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO — These days, the man who made the most anticipated debut in Washington Nationals history divides his time among the fishing boat, the movie theater and the bullpen. He hasn’t had a radar gun tracking the ball as it comes out of his precious right arm in 290 days, and he usually gets his work in hundreds of miles away from his teammates.

One year after Stephen Strasburg filled Nationals Park and electrified the baseball world with a seven-inning, 14-strikeout debut, his reality is this: throwing between 30 and 40 fastballs in bullpen sessions three times a week.

“Everything feels great,” Strasburg said on a conference call Tuesday as the anniversary of his debut approached and he passed the nine-month mark in his rehab from Tommy John surgery.

“When you first start throwing, you have to realize everything’s good inside you and you just need to let it happen,” he said. “And now, it’s just trying to stay sane down there in Florida when you’re doing pretty much the same thing everyday.”

Strasburg has been throwing off a mound in Viera, Fla., for three weeks as the arduous rehab from his ligament-replacement surgery continues. He hasn’t thrown a breaking pitch, and his focus is less on lighting up triple digits on a radar gun and more on mechanics and the timing of his delivery.

And mostly, he hasn’t thought about June 8, 2010.

“It was an amazing experience,” he said. “But it’s kind of foggy right now. I’m really focused on living in the now. I’ve got a lot of work to do and I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. My goal right now is to get back to 100 percent, go out there and fill up the stadium like I did on that day.”

The details, he said, are a bit fuzzy.

Strasburg remembers stretching before the Nationals’ 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. He remembers looking up at the 40,315 fans as they poured into the park. He remembers pitching coach Steve McCatty tipping his cap to the fans excitedly yelling “Stephen” as the right-hander made his way from the bullpen to the mound, a light moment between the two as the coach attempted to ease the nerves of his pitcher.

From that point until a shaving cream pie hit him in the face 2 hours, 19 minutes later, though, is a blur.

“It’s something that I dreamed of since I was a little kid,” he said, reflecting back on the moment. “To finally make that a reality was just an incredible experience, but I only remember bits and pieces.”

The nostalgia, though, isn’t where his focus lies. He took notice as Jordan Zimmermann — who had Tommy John surgery in August 2009 — allowed one run in seven innings Tuesday night in a 2-1 victory over San Francisco.

“Going through it now,” Strasburg said, “I realize everything he had to go through last year. He worked his butt off, and now he’s being rewarded.”

As distant as Strasburg’s return may seem, there’s no doubt it’s highly anticipated.

“It’s amazing just how devastating news that was when he went down,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. “But the days are going off the calendar, and he will be back — and it’ll be just wonderful for the Nationals to have him back.

“[His debut] was a great day at the ballpark. There were a lot of great days when he pitched. I think there’s going to be a lot of great days ahead for Stephen and the Nationals.”