JUPITER, Fla. -- Putting a runner on base to begin an inning is usually something to avoid for any pitcher, but when Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg did so in each of his first three innings on Saturday, it wasn't such a bad thing.
Strasburg has made holding baserunners a priority this spring after allowing 27 steals in 34 attempts (a 79 percent success rate) over the past two seasons. His start against the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium provided a good deal of practice.
Strasburg gave up a single to Rafael Furcal to begin the first, issued a walk to Marcell Ozuna to open the second and allowed a single to Josh Rodriguez to start the third. In each case, Strasburg paid attention to the runner, and in each case, that runner never advanced to second. None attempted a steal.
"It's just repetition," Strasburg said. "I do the same things over and over again and go into the game with the same mindset of what I need to do. Basically just making it harder when guys are on base to get in scoring position. It's going to help me out in the long run, especially over the course of a season."
Manager Matt Williams said Strasburg is "varying his looks" to first, sometimes giving a quick throw over and other times throwing after holding the ball a while. At this point, it's becoming a more natural part of his game.
"He's got a routine that he's doing now," Williams said. "So he's thinking about it, but then he's letting the ball go and throwing strikes. The indicator there is if he's not throwing strikes, if he's out of rhythm, but I don't see that."
Strasburg, in his third start of the spring, lasted four innings overall and bumped his pitch count to 61. He allowed two hits, walked one and struck out four, saying his mechanics "felt a lot more locked in this time." He also continued throwing his slider, another new part of his repertoire this year.
"I threw a few, had some good ones," Strasburg said. "I was pulling them a little bit early, but then I kind of got it down and liked what I saw."
Fister fine after 'pen session; next step uncertain
JUPITER, Fla. -- Nationals pitcher Doug Fister still felt good Saturday morning, a day after throwing a 25-pitch bullpen session, according to manager Matt Williams. Yet the next step in the right-hander's return from right elbow inflammation is not entirely certain.
Williams initially said the Nats would reevaluate Fister "in the next day or so," then have him progress to live batting practice before deciding whether to pitch him in a Major League or Minor League game.
However, told that pitching coach Steve McCatty had said Friday that Fister could throw in a Minor League game on Sunday, Williams indicated that is possible as well, "depending on how today goes."
"He'll go through his work today, and we'll see where we're at," Williams said.
Acquired from the Tigers this offseason, Fister made his Grapefruit League debut with two innings on March 2, but he hasn't pitched in a game since.
Zimmerman starts at DH, maybe third on Sunday
JUPITER, Fla. -- Ryan Zimmerman re-entered the Nationals' lineup for Saturday afternoon's game against the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium, but he'll have to wait at least one more day to play in the field.
Zimmerman has been dealing with soreness in his right shoulder, as well as some general body soreness, and he hadn't played since Monday. He started Saturday's game at designated hitter and went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and a sacrifice fly.
The plan is to have Zimmerman take some ground balls early Sunday morning. If he feels good after that, he could play third base, likely in the Nats' home split-squad game against the Tigers.
"The whole point of taking those three or four days off was to get rid of [the soreness] right now instead of dealing with it all through the season," Zimmerman said. "It's the smart thing to do, and if I feel better [tomorrow], I'll get back in there, and if not, we'll wait until I feel better, and then I'll get back in there."
Zimmerman indicated that the recent soreness was typical for Spring Training, likely the result of doing a lot of work in the field. It's not necessarily an indication that the 29-year-old will continue having problems with his surgically repaired shoulder, although he knows it's something that still could have an effect.
"You never know with surgery," he said. "That's the most frustrating thing is it'll feel good for a couple months and then you'll have a week where it doesn't feel good. Unfortunately that's what you deal with when you've played a lot of years and had surgery. But everything's felt great so far."
Zimmerman, now 7-for-21 (.333) this spring with a double and a home run, said he doesn't need many at-bats to get his swing ready for the season.
The Nats still want him to see some game action at first base this spring, but as Williams put it, "I want him to play third first, no pun intended, then play first second."
Williams did say that even if Zimmerman doesn't get into a game at first base during the spring, he's done enough work there in drills that "he'd be fine," if the club needed to use him there in the regular season. Despite that, the ideal scenario is to get Zimmerman some game reps, at least on the Minor League side.
"I haven't done much over there," Zimmerman said. "But it's more just learning the responsibilities over there. I can field the ball and catch the ball. It's just learning what I'm supposed to do."
Injuries derailing Mattheus, Ohlendorf's opening plans
JUPITER, Fla. -- Nationals relievers Ryan Mattheus and Ross Ohlendorf both are making progress in their return from injuries, but their recoveries might not come along fast enough to get them ready for Opening Day.
Mattheus hasn't pitched in a game this spring, due to inflammation of the cartilage connecting the ribs and sternum. He did throw a bullpen session on Friday, and manager Matt Williams said Saturday that Mattheus should see game action in the next two or three days.
"He's set back, and it is what it is, so we'll have to evaluate that as we narrow down and are going to select the club," Williams said of Mattheus, who is competing for a bullpen spot, along with Ohlendorf. "But he's certainly behind the eight-ball in that regard, because he needs to build himself up and get himself going. It doesn't mean that he's not gonna break with us, but we have to evaluate that as we get closer."
Ohlendorf hasn't pitched since suffering back spasms in his spring debut on March 6 against the Braves. Williams was not certain when Ohlendorf will pitch in a game, but said it likely will be late this coming week.
One pitcher who has been healthy is fellow right-hander Tanner Roark, who is a fifth-starter candidate but also enjoyed success coming out of the bullpen last season. He could end up there to begin 2014.
"His versatility within the pitching staff helps," Williams said. "He can start, he can relieve, he's done them both, so that's nothing but a positive for him and his chances to break with the club."
• Shortstop Ian Desmond hasn't played since Tuesday due to a cold and a cut on his finger, but he is scheduled to return to the lineup on Sunday. Desmond went through batting practice and made some throws on Friday, and Williams said the finger has "healed up nicely."
• Williams said that outfielder Bryce Harper isn't completely over a cold that has bothered him this week, but the ailment didn't prevent him from starting in left field on Saturday.
• Sunday's split-squad home game against the Tigers at Space Coast Stadium is the second this spring in which the Nationals will be able to test baseball's new instant replay system. Williams and his full Major League staff will stay for that game, while Triple-A Syracuse manager Billy Gardner will lead the contingent headed to Kissimmee, Fla., to take on the Astros.
• The Nats are planning their next round of cuts for Monday morning, the day after going through their final split-squad day of the spring.