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Nats managing expectations after Strasburg throws

VIERA, Fla. (AP) — Stephen Strasburg is already creating quite a buzz in spring training.

About 150 fans, twice the normal number for Washington's first workout, watched Nationals pitchers and catchers practice Sunday. And most of them had their eyes squarely on the No. 1 pick in last June's draft.

Strasburg threw 37 pitches — matching his jersey number — during his 9-minute session, one of five pitchers manager Jim Riggleman watched intently. Strasburg tossed four-seam fastballs, two-seamers, a slider/curveball hybrid and changeups.

After the outing, Riggleman tried to temper expectations swirling around the right-hander.

"We're open-minded. Everybody's performances will determine where they end up," Riggleman said. "(Strasburg) could pitch real well down here, but we still may feel like the development process is to be respected."

If Strasburg starts his first professional season in the minors, the 21-year-old from San Diego State said that's fine.

"They have a plan for me," he said. "I trust that they're going to handle me the right way. You just got to worry about what you can control — and that's going out there and trying to help your team win a ballgame."

Strasburg's aspirations for his first pro camp are typical of any rookie.

"I want to go out there and do my best. On a personal side, it doesn't matter where I'm at. I just want to go out there and answer the bell every start," he said.

General manager Mike Rizzo, however, acknowledged that Strasburg is being fast-tracked.

"If he's the player we think he's going to be, we feel he'll have some impact in the major leagues in 2010," Rizzo said.

Until that happens, Strasburg will soak in another new experience.

"This is my first professional season and there's a lot of new things being thrown my way, so I've just got to dig deep down and try to handle them the right way," Strasburg said.

Minor league catcher Derek Norris, who caught Strasburg in the instructional league last fall, noticed some improvement.

"His fastball's always got a lot of life," Norris said. "One thing that stuck out in my mind was his two-seam — his sinker has a lot more action that it did about five months ago. It's incredible. It's almost like a lefty slider. From where he's progressed since October, his two-seam is just phenomenally better."

Before throwing, Strasburg stretched, played catch with fellow first-round pick Drew Storen, fielded comebackers hit by minor league hitting coordinator Rick Schu and took fielding practice. Following his bullpen, he worked on covering first base and practiced bunting.

While Strasburg tossed, team president Stan Kasten stood behind the right-hander while Rizzo and other members of the front office watched their $15.1 million investment from palm tree-shaded golf carts.

"It was short and sweet," Strasburg said of his bullpen. "I was able to hit the glove most of the time."

The fans had an easy time picking out Strasburg. His pants were pulled almost knee-high, showing much of his red leggings. As Strasburg moved from drill to drill, fans followed like a golf gallery, sometimes making autograph requests that he couldn't accommodate.

"Sorry, guys, for the fans out there — I'm there to get my work in, so if you want to stick around after, I can sign," Strasburg said. "It was pretty crazy today."

NOTES: C Jesus Flores, recovering from surgery to repair a torn cartilage in his right shoulder, caught during bullpen sessions, but a coach handled throwing the ball back to the waiting pitcher. Riggleman wasn't sure how long Flores, who has had a succession of shoulder problems, would be restricted from throwing. ... RHP Tyler Clippard, playing in a foursome that included LHP John Lannan, hit a hole-in-one at nearby Duran Golf Club on Saturday. It was Clippard's first ace and he credited a lucky hot dog for his shot on the par-3 fourth hole. "I threw my club up in the air," Clippard said. "I've been waiting 15 years for a hole-in-one." Clippard shot a 79 for the round and chipped in from a bunker on the fifth hole after consuming a second fortuitous frankfurter.