VIERA, Fla. — Stephen Strasburg’s delivery was flawless. Arms crossed in front of his locker, the 23-year-old right-hander didn’t let a smile sneak onto his face as the words left his mouth.
“I was just maxing out at 88,” Strasburg said after pitching two innings in the Washington Nationals’ 10-2 Grapefruit League loss to the Houston Astros on Sunday. “So that’s about right.”
The joke hung in the air. Laughter followed a few seconds later.
Strasburg is known for his fastball that averaged 95.8 mph in five September starts last season, not his one-liners with reporters.
But Strasburg’s manner after his 44-pitch outing at Space Coast Stadium was as easy as his arm action. Five hundred forty-eight days after Tommy John ligament replacement surgery repaired his right elbow, Strasburg’s arm feels significantly better than last spring training.
Better means a stronger arm, one that didn’t tire between innings. One that felt as if it was just getting warmed up when manager Davey Johnson pulled Strasburg after 2⅔ innings of three-hit, two-run baseball, one pitch away from his limit of 45.
“It was pretty much a breeze,” Strasburg said. “It was very easy to throw out there.”
That didn’t mean Strasburg avoided trouble. He struck out three batters, but his command, particularly with off-speed pitches, was erratic. In the first inning, Strasburg started Brian Bogusevic off with three balls, hard sinkers he pulled inside. But Strasburg rallied to strike out Bogusevic swinging.
“He’s fun to watch, even when he’s amped up and overthrowing.”
Strasburg admitted he was too excited. He expected the extra adrenaline. That contributed to throwing only 26 strikes, uncorking a wild pitch and allowing a home run down the left-field line by Chris Snyder.
“I was a little erratic at times, but I know thats going to come with the repetitions and fine-tuning the mechanics,” Strasburg said. “I felt like I could’ve gone a few more [innings].”
NOTES: Johnson took the blame for left-hander Tom Gorzelanny’s difficult inning, where he allowed seven runs, three hits and four walks. A communication problem with the bullpen left Gorzelanny in the game longer than Johnson wanted. “That’s not the kind of work I want to give him,” Johnson said. … Drew Storen needed only 11 pitches to work his first spring inning. Johnson dubbed his closer “Tinkerbell” postgame because of Storen’s mechanical tinkering. … John Lannan starts for the Nationals on Monday in the 6:10 p.m. game against the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie.