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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Strasburg faces live batters in rain

Wind and rain kept away the crowds to the point that Stephen Strasburg's live batting practice session on Tuesday morning felt pretty much normal. His stuff, of course, is still anything but.

He faced Eric Bruntlett, Willy Taveras, Roger Bernadina, and Josh Whitesell, not quite the meat of a big league lineup. And their timing is still at the March 2 level. And there was an L-screen, a batting cage and no umpires. You get the point -- this was not really a significant moment.

Still, Strasburg threw for 12 minutes and the net production from the hitters consisted of a few bleeders, foul tips and grounders. Bruntlett missed one slider by about a foot. The first significant test against batters comes a week from today, against the Tigers. For now, he's been nothing but impressive.

"It's a little tough to tell this early on," Bruntlett said. "But you can tell he's got a great arm. He's got great stuff. He was throwing some balls that had some great movement on them as well. His delivery is smooth. The ball really jumps out of his hand."

There is little doubt Strasburg will begin this year as a minor leaguer. Tuesday morning, Manager Jim Riggleman explained that the Nationals will base their decision not on his spring performance, but on how best to promote his development.

"It's going to come down to more of a philosophical decision more so than a performance decision," Riggleman said. "We anticipate he's going to throw good. It's going to come down to, what do we think is best for Stephen Strasburg as an organization? I've been very impressed, and I'm anticipating continuing to be impressed."

Flores's slow progress

Jesús Flores is not feeling defeated in his rehab from shoulder surgery, but there are days he comes close. On Monday, he wanted to throw 120 feet, but the weakness in his right shoulder wouldn't let him move past 90. He thought he'd be swinging by this week; now he's not so sure.

"Every time I say something, it doesn't happen," Flores said. "I'm not a lucky guy right now."

Flores has not experienced any setbacks. He's just not progressing as quickly as he hoped. He's said he can't see himself being ready by opening day, but aside from that prognosis he has no timetables. "We have to take baby steps," he said.

For someone far away from playing any actual baseball, Flores mostly blends in. He practices what he can, like blocking balls in the dirt. He's still feeling hopeful, but frustrated. "This is really a tough situation to be in, 120 percent," Flores said.

-- Adam Kilgore


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