WASHINGTON -- Most of his teammates already were out on the field for batting practice when Stephen Strasburg wandered into the home clubhouse at Nationals Park on Wednesday.
Shut down for at least two days -- and perhaps three or four -- because of a stiff pitching shoulder, Strasburg did not need to hurry to put on his uniform. Backup catcher Wil Nieves, whose locker is next to Strasburg's, turned to the rookie sensation and asked, "How you doing, man? You all right?"
Strasburg's answer -- the one the Washington Nationals and their fans care so much about -- was inaudible. About two hours later, though, standing against a cinderblock wall in the hallway outside that clubhouse, the prized right-hander spoke to reporters for the first time since being scratched Tuesday, shortly before what was supposed to be the 10th major league start of his much-hyped career.
Strasburg said he first sensed tightness in his pitching shoulder "a couple days ago," and he chalked it up to "kind of hitting the wall a little bit."
He said he felt "a lot better" and his range of motion is "starting to come back."
Washington general manager Mike Rizzo and trainer Lee Kuntz said Strasburg did not indicate he had a problem before Tuesday, when his pregame bullpen session was stopped about a half-dozen throws in.
"I wasn't really scared, because it's kind of something that I've had happen to me before," Strasburg said, referring to feeling stiffness in his right shoulder while in college at San Diego State. "It wasn't on just one pitch, so that's obviously a big thing."
He took anti-inflammatory medicine Wednesday and underwent treatment that Kuntz said included "stretching, strengthening ... using heat, using ice." But the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft did not toss a ball. Instead, during batting practice, Strasburg stood in the right-field grass, chatting with pitching coach Steve McCatty.
It's not exactly clear when he will next throw a baseball, much less pitch in a game; his next scheduled start would be Sunday.
"We don't have an update whether he's going to pitch Sunday or when he'll pitch again, if not Sunday," manager Jim Riggleman said. "We're just really going to give it another day or two before we do anything."
The Nationals have been quite careful in the way they have brought along Strasburg since giving him a record $15.1 million contract right before the deadline for getting deals done.
Even though Strasburg was dominant at times during spring training, he was moved to minor league camp in Florida, then began the season at Double-A Harrisburg. The righty was promoted to Triple-A Syracuse in early May, before making his highly anticipated major league debut June 8 -- and, somehow, surpassing expectations by striking out 14 batters in a 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He left that game after seven innings, part of a pattern of being eased into the rigors of the major leagues. The Nationals have said they would end Strasburg's season when he reaches 160 innings, even if that cap were to come in late August or early September.
He's been by far the brightest spot in another last-place season for the Nationals in 2010, going 5-2 with a 2.32 ERA, 75 strikeouts and 15 walks in 54 1/3 innings.
So far in 2010, he's thrown 109 2/3 innings total, including in the minors, which essentially matches his count in his final college season at San Diego State: 109 innings.
"I'm just at the point in the season where I'm kind of going down uncharted territory," Strasburg said Wednesday.
Asked to describe when he feels a problem in his shoulder -- the official team diagnosis was "inflammation" -- Strasburg said: "After I throw the ball, when I finish."
He continued: "I've been learning a lot here, and when you're playing this many games throughout the season, you're going to start feeling things in your body that you wouldn't otherwise thought you'd feel. You know, little things getting to feel a little off. ... It really is a blessing in disguise, because I know what this feels like to get to the 100-game point, getting right up to this many innings. And I know how to prepare for it now. And next year, God willing, this won't happen again, and we'll be in playoff contention."