- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 30, 2014

Stephen Strasburg is neither a runner nor a golfer, at least not professionally. He’s a baseball player and a pretty good one. Still only 25, Strasburg will make his third consecutive Opening Day start for the Nationals when they begin the season Monday against the Mets in New York.

When talking about what’s changed about him over the years, though, Strasburg dips into the running and golfing lexicon.

“I think my first year was definitely a challenge,” said Strasburg, who made his debut in 2010. “Every single ball I threw was magnified. I think at times I really pushed myself to be game-ready at the start of spring. It just caused me to do a lot of extra throwing in the offseason and more working out.

“Just from talking to guys that have been through it before and have figure out the puzzle of what it’s like to stay healthy and throw 200-plus innings every year and make all their starts, what they say is that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You have to try and not change your program from one bad start to the next. You have to stay the course.”

And not to leave the golfers out, there’s more:

“If you start out with a couple of bogeys, you can’t just try and change your swing or change your approach. You just have to keep working hard. That’s all you can really do, be ready to toe it up and compete every fifth day.”

SEE ALSO: LOVERRO: Nationals might be good enough to live up to expectations this time

OK, so there’s some baseball. Whatever sport he chooses to use, the point is simple: For all his skills that have been evident from the start, Strasburg continues to develop as a pitcher even if he did start with a pretty high bar.

“When we talk about Stephen’s development, you take that with a grain of salt because he’s been great since Day 1,” Nats general manager Mike Rizzo said. “I see the things he’s been working on come to fruition this year. I see a real calm and ease with himself and knowing who he is — a guy who has matured and is ready to have a great season for us.

“He’s been extremely good, one of the best pitchers in baseball, and his future is very bright.”

Strasburg was 15-6 (3.16 ERA) and an All-Star two years ago and may have been even better last year despite an 8-9 record (3.00 ERA). The season included his first career shutout, and he gave up the same number of hits in 2013 despite pitching 24 more innings. He struck out six fewer but that may even be a positive sign in his development as he learned to rely on more than just power pitching.

During spring training this year, he posted a 4-0 record with a 1.83 ERA in five starts.

“We worked hard all spring to get to this point,” Strasburg said. “Everybody is confident heading into the season. I think it is going to be a good year for us.”

So do others. Sports Illustrated is among those picking the Nationals to win the World Series. But that was a popular pick last season, too, and the Nats didn’t make the playoffs.

“It is what it is,” Strasburg said. “I think a lot of it has to do with how much talent is on our roster and how good we look on paper. That’s not going to carry you the whole way. The biggest thing is we just have to stick together and focus on what we can control. That’s the effort we put in on a daily basis. We’ll see what happens.

“Bottom line is, in the clubhouse we know how hard it is to even get to the playoffs on a year-in, year-out basis. That’s something we’re shooting for. I think much like it was last year, there are obviously expections. We have a fresh, new manager [Matt Williams]. He’s definitely a bulldog there. I think people are excited again. We didn’t finish where we wanted to be, but we were 10 games over .500 last year. That’s really good for a lot of organizations. I think the sky is the limit with this club.”

Chase Hughes of CSNWashington.com contributed to this article.

• Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@washingtontimes.com.

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