PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Time was, if Stephen Strasburg gave up a home run in the first inning of the first game of spring training, the rest of the Nationals dugout would have been ready to brace for impact.
"I think last year at this time, if he would've done what he did in that first inning, we would have seen gloves flying, cups flying," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "He was pretty fairly composed today."
Consider it another important step in Strasburg's progression as a big-league pitcher. After getting roughed up by the Mets for two runs on three hits in the first inning this afternoon, the fourth-year right-hander composed himself and cruised through a 1-2-3 second inning, ending his first game appearance since last September's shutdown on a high note.
As he's come to learn with experience, results in late-February don't mean squat.
"I remember, like my first couple spring trainings, I was coming in there, I threw a lot more beforehand," he said. "I was in-season, ready to go, when spring training started. I've slowly started to realize that you've still got another six weeks when you get here. Just take a step back and let myself still build up in this time."
Strasburg approached this outing with one primary goal in mind: Work on fastball command. Of the 42 total pitches he threw in two innings, 36 were fastballs. The results weren't exactly pretty -- he served up three hits in the bottom of the first, one of them a homer by light-hitting shortstop Ruben Tejada -- but that wasn't what Strasburg was worried about.
"They pretty much just said: 'Just work on your fastball command,'" he said. "And you know they're going to be up there hacking, especially the first day. They're going to see a lot of fastballs. It's just kind of wearing it and just trying to not really worry about the hits you give up and everything. Just trying to get the command going, first thing."
Strasburg noted he has a tendency to struggle the first time he faces an opposing lineup each year, whether during his time at San Diego State or here at spring training with the Nationals. The urge to get "geeked up," as the right-hander put it, is tough to overcome.
"It's the first spring training game, the first game of the year for him facing live hitters wearing a different uniform, so there's going to be adrenaline," said catcher Chris Snyder, who while playing for the Astros last spring actually homered off Strasburg in his first start. "And that's all that was. The stuff looked good. When his mechanics stayed solid, he looked great."
Indeed, after fighting his way through some glitches during a first inning he called "a bit of a debacle," Strasburg settled down nicely in the bottom of the second, retiring the side on 11 pitches. He worked in a couple of curveballs and one changeup, but understands there will be plenty of time to work on the finer points of pitching before it really counts.
With a long spring training scheduled thanks to the World Baseball Classic, Strasburg could make as many as seven Grapefruit League starts before taking the mound at Nationals Park April 1 against the Marlins.
Add perhaps 32 regular-season starts and then the possibility of more after that, and Strasburg realizes this is only the first step on a long journey.
"In the past, if I had a bad outing, I would throw and throw and throw until it felt good," he said. "And usually it'd be good for the next outing. But now I kind of realize that we want to play into October, so there's a lot of time to figure things out. You've just got to stay the course."