VIERA, Fla. -- Washington Nationals manager Jim Riggleman dropped another strong hint Tuesday that right-hander Stephen Strasburg, the top pick in June's amateur draft, is destined to start the season in the minor leagues.
"It's just more challenging to pitch in Double-A or Triple-A in April than it is in spring training in March. We get a better read," Riggleman said.
Strasburg is slated to make his first spring training start at Space Coast Stadium on March 9 against Detroit in a game that will be televised live in Washington. He was scheduled to throw live batting practice Tuesday.
"Spring training is great, but even as opposed to Double-A or Triple-A pitching, it's just not the same," Riggleman said. "When everything counts, records count and statistics count, regular season is just a different animal with a guy to go out there with the adrenaline throwing on both sides and the other team is trying to get you."
Strasburg has shown a blazing fastball this spring and earned raves from the front office and teammates for his poise. But his manager acknowledged there may come a point where the rookie will need more innings than he can get in the major league camp.
The Atlanta Braves used the same philosophy with top pitching prospect Tommy Hanson last spring, sending him to the minors with two weeks left in spring training before recalling him from Triple-A in early June.
Such a philosophy also delays a player's eligibility for arbitration, saving a team money.
"If we determine that he's not going to be on the club, we probably will get [Strasburg] out of camp and go get in his routine," Riggleman said. "When he leaves Florida, he's going to want to be throwing five innings anyway. If we can only get him two or three at a time, it's not going to work."
Washington has enough starting pitching that it can afford a conservative approach with Strasburg. The Nationals signed right-hander Jason Marquis as a free agent and have left-hander John Lannan and right-handers J.D. Martin and Craig Stammen returning.
"It's not like we have to have him here now because we don't have any other starters," Riggleman said.