By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Sports Writer
Stephen Strasburg was among the first players manager Dave Martinez ran into at the Washington Nationals’ spring training facility Thursday before the team’s first official workout for pitchers and catchers.
That’s significant because the 2019 World Series MVP pitched only five innings in 2020 before he was shut down because of a nerve problem in his right wrist that required surgery.
“He’s going to get ready to start the season just like normal. Normal spring training for him,” Martinez said about the 32-year-old starter who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft. “He looks good. He looks great, actually. And he feels good, which is the most important thing.”
As much a key part of Washington’s desire to move past a tied-for-last finish during last year’s pandemic-shortened season as the many offseason roster changes, Strasburg is slated to throw a bullpen session Friday.
“He is in preparation mode,” general manager Mike Rizzo said, “not in rehabilitation mode.”
One of the other top four members of Washington’s rotation, Max Scherzer, is being told to progress cautiously at the start of spring training — not because of anything to do with his arm, but because he sprained his left ankle about two weeks ago, Martinez said.
“He said he felt OK, and he went to throw a bullpen and he felt it. So we told him: It’s early, we’re going to back off a little bit,” Martinez said about the three-time Cy Young Award winner.
“Hopefully this is something that won’t hold him back too much,” Martinez said. “As we all know, this is the last year on his contract, so he’s going to push himself. But we need to be careful right now.”
All of the team’s pitchers and catchers reported and went through the COVID-19 screening.
“Everybody is here, everyone’s clear and we’re full-go,” Rizzo said.
Other topics addressed by the GM and manager during video conferences from West Palm Beach, Fla., on Thursday:
— The team is “still in the early stages of discussion” with NL batting champion Juan Soto on a long-term contract, Rizzo said, adding that there were talks last spring training that “didn’t go very far.” The 22-year-old slugger will shift from left field to right in 2021.
— The Nationals are sticking with Carter Kieboom at third base; he’s hit .181 so far in 44 games with Washington. “If we listened to Twitter world,” Rizzo said, “we would have gotten rid of Robin Ventura when he was 0-for-48 or something like that in his early days in the big leagues.”
— With quite a bit of roster churn, including the additions of starter Jon Lester, lefty reliever Brad Hand, outfielder Kyle Schwarber and first baseman Josh Bell, they anticipate last season being an aberration for a club that made the playoffs five of the prior eight years. “We’re not a perfect team, but I think we’re really talented and a good team. We have high expectations this year,” Rizzo said. “We feel that we put ourselves again in position to be a world championship club this year.”
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FILE – Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg, right, walks with a member of the training staff as he heads to the dugout after leaving the game during the first inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore, in this Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, file photo. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, that Strasburg “is in preparation mode not in rehabilitation mode” at spring training after having surgery in 2020.