Stephen Strasburg making slow progress

Thursday, March 3, 2011; D03

Strasburg makes slow progress

Early Wednesday morning, Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg stood in right field at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla., playing catch with head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz, a daily routine mostly, but not completely, unchanged. Since Strasburg arrived at spring training, his sessions of catch have included more throws, from a farther distance, with greater intensity.

"They don't want me to put too much pressure on it, but they just want it to be a fluid throw," Strasburg said Wednesday afternoon. "I'm just going out there nice, free and easy. I'm not lobbing the ball."

Being around baseball and teammates is both a comfort and a tease. "It has its moments," Strasburg said. "It's great to go out there, pick up a baseball. But there's so much downtime in between. It's pretty hard going out there and doing infield practice with the pitchers, not being able to throw. I'm standing around watching a game, knowing I'm not going to be pitching. It's a different perspective. At the same time, I'm able to look at the game almost like I'm a fan.

"You really just take the time to set aside what I have to accomplish here in spring training and really just focus on learning."

Strasburg revealed that he has lost about 15 pounds, spurred by a change in diet. He said it has helped him bounce back quicker from workouts.

At the end of the month, the Nationals will head north and leave him in Viera, basically alone in the sticky spring heat. That's the toughest part of recovering from Tommy John surgery, fellow right-hander Jordan Zimmermann has told him. Strasburg has had a taste of baseball this spring, and soon, it's going to disappear.

"It's going to be tough," Strasburg said. "Right now, you feel part of the team. When they all head up north, it's going to be different. Days are going to feel a lot longer, that's for sure."

Reliever has Tommy John

Right-handed reliever Cla Meredith underwent Tommy John surgery on Wednesday. The operation was performed by Nationals team doctor Wiemi Douoguih.

Meredith had problems with the previously surgically repaired elbow since early this spring. When he threw about 20 pitches in his first bullpen session of camp, Meredith felt acute pain in his elbow, which led to a series of tests, which eventually revealed a torn ulnar ligament.

Meredith, 27, signed a minor league contract with the Nationals this winter after spending 2010 with the Orioles, mostly in Class AAA. In October, he underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.

H. Rodriguez arrives

Reliever Henry Rodriguez is in camp and in uniform after being delayed in Venezuela by a visa issue. Rodriguez said he's been staying in shape, throwing bullpen sessions and live batting practice. Still, he said he'll probably need one or two weeks before he's up to speed with the Nationals' pitchers.

"I've been working hard," Rodriguez said through interpreter Javier Castro, the Nationals' assistant equipment manager. "If they give me the opportunity, it's up to the manager. I'm here to do my job, and I'm going to go get it."

Bernadina's hot hitting

The two Nationals off to the best starts are the ones vying for the left field spot. Michael Morse had the day off, so Roger Bernadina took his place as the team's hitting star in an 8-4 win over the Marlins. Bernadina led off and played center field, going 2 for 4 with a three-run home run and a bunt single.

Through three games, Bernadina is 4 for 6 with a walk, two bunt singles and the homer, a bomb to right off Josh Johnson.

His next time up to bat, with one out and nobody on, Bernadina showed off the other part of his game. Left-hander Mike Dunn was on the mound, and Bernadina rolled a clinical bunt into the no-man's land between the mound, first base and the second baseman.

"That's something I want to work on," Bernadina said. "Whatever I can do to help the team get on-base somehow."

- Adam Kilgore

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