Strasburg pitches
into the sixth inning

Stephen Strasburg fired 93 pitches through the brisk evening air Saturday night, which for him represented something more than a typical spring training checkpoint. In his major league career, Strasburg had surpassed that 93-pitch mark in only 24 starts. He has not often carried that kind of workload.

“He’s a regular guy,” Manager Davey Johnson said afterward. “I treat him like everybody else. He’s a big machine.”

More than two weeks before Strasburg will make his second opening day start, Johnson sent the right-hander out for the sixth inning after he threw 81 pitches in the first five.

The Nationals plan to handle Strasburg with usual care, not the extreme caution they showed last year when they ended his season a month shy of the postseason. In 51 / 3 innings, he struck out eight, allowed five hits (including a solo homer by old friend Rick Ankiel) and walked only the final batter he faced, Carlos Pena.

Strasburg has been adamant this spring about his desire to become a workhorse, and he believes pitch count plays a significant factor. He wants the Nationals to let him stay on the mound an extra inning, well into triple-digit pitches. Last year, he threw at least 105 pitches in just five of 28 starts. He wants that to change.

“I’m not trying to get out there and get used to throwing 90, 94 pitches,” Strasburg said. “You look at some of the top pitchers in the game, they go at least 110 every time out. I’m going to be prepared for it. I’m not saying that they’re going to let me do it. But I’m going to be physically ready for it.”

Saturday night, Strasburg rifled his fastball between 94 and 98 mph. He mixed in changeups and curveballs to put away hitters.

Afterward, Johnson said Strasburg seemed ready to start the season now.

On Monday, Johnson plans to make another round of cuts and play his starting lineup on an everyday basis.

Zimmerman plays third

In Washington’s 4-2 loss to the Houston Astros, Ryan Zimmerman played the field for the time since surgery to repair an inflamed, battered right shoulder in the offseason. In four innings, Zimmerman converted the only play that came his way, winging a sidearm throw to finish off a slow roller. He didn’t face any routine grounders, the kind that troubled him last season.

Zimmerman has been torrid at the plate, but his reworked throwing mechanics remained a question. He had been improving, looking more and more “natural,” Johnson said.

— Adam Kilgore and James Wagner