VIERA, Fla. (AP) — Because Stephen Strasburg is Stephen Strasburg, the Washington Nationals gave him one of the bigger lockers in the clubhouse at spring training. He'd prefer they didn't.
In fact, last year, he turned it down, moving to a smaller one and letting Dan Haren have the roomier digs. He wasn't able to do the same this year because he was one of the last arriving pitchers, and everyone else had already moved in their various belongings.
"It's a little foreign to me," Strasburg said. "Back in college, my pitching coach was adamant. He'd remind me every single day that you're just another donkey. And I think the message there is to always stay humble and always work hard and always strive to be just that other guy in the clubhouse that doesn't necessary come in and expect attention, or expect special treatment."
But he'll command attention nonetheless. Strasburg is only 25, but has yet to get really rolling as a pro. He has a 2.96 career ERA and has struck out 10.4 batters every nine innings — the best ratio of any pitcher in the majors with at least 425 innings since 2010. But, because of injuries, including the bone chips that required right elbow surgery in October, he has only 75 starts and a record of 29-19.
Now it's time to get even better, specifically by ironing out the Strasburg flaws. On Sunday, with his elbow fully healed, he threw his first formal bullpen session of spring training. Of the five pitchers in his group, he was the only one to deliberately look toward an imaginary runner at first base when pitching from the stretch.
The reason was obvious: He has become an easy mark for would-be base-stealers, who have timed his delivery with ease and have been successful 79 percent of the time.
"It's just trying to change my setup so I can see the runner a little better, know where he is in relation to first base," Strasburg said. "And hopefully pick a couple of guys off this year."
If he does, it would triple his career number of pick-offs.
These are the type of rough edges that are left unpolished when a player makes his major-league debut at age 21, a year after being drafted No. 1 overall.
"My situation, I didn't really have much time in the minors to work on the little nuances of pitching," Strasburg said. "And that was one thing where I just compensated for it by just being really quick to home plate. And big league baserunners, hitters, coaches, they're going to pick up on that. They're just going to cheat and sell out. If I can't even see where they're at, they know I'm going to home plate, so they're gone."