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Strasburg takes bunting, fielding drills

Strasburg takes bunting, fielding drills

WASHINGTON -- Even though he pitched well against the White Sox last Friday in a 2-1 loss, Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg was not happy that he had problems doing the basic fundamentals such as covering first base and bunting the baseball to advance a runner.

In the first inning on Friday, for example, Juan Pierre led off and beat out an infield single, with the rookie phenom slow covering first base after Pierre hit a ground ball to first baseman Adam Dunn.

In the sixth inning, with Ian Desmond on first and one out, Strasburg couldn't bunt Desmond over to second and eventually struck out; Desmond was picked off trying to go back to first. After the game, Strasburg said he was planning to work with Tim Foli, the senior assistant to general manager Mike Rizzo, the next day on his bunting.

Strasburg did just that. Foli said that Strasburg is the least of his worries when it comes to bunting the ball. At first, Strasburg wasn't sure if his bat was covering the plate to make a successful bunt attempt.

Strasburg never bunted until he started playing professional baseball. While attending San Diego State, he never faced opposing pitchers because coach Tony Gwynn didn't want opposing pitchers to take a shot at his best player.

"[Strasburg] jabbed at the ball a little bit," Foli said before Tuesday's game between the Nats and Royals. "But I had him down in the cage before and I've seen him bunt. He is going to be fine. The one thing about pitchers bunting is that we could never simulate the game. We throw batting practice at 60 miles an hour and they can get the ball down standing on their head. When the games come and the pitch is 94 miles per hour with movement, it's a big deal.

"All we are trying to do is get him in a better hitting position, but he is a good athlete. He can swing the bat a little bit. So I'm not worried about it. He has to see some pitchers and will get used them. He will be fine."

As far as covering first base on a ground ball, Strasburg was seen working on that skill before Tuesday's game with the other Nationals pitchers.

Nationals backup catcher Wil Nieves said that Strasburg can easily fix his problem by not hesitating going toward the bag.

"Don't expect the first baseman to make the play," Nieves said. "Strasburg always hustles. So I told him to keep hustling to first base -- don't get too confident that you are going to beat them to the base. Go hard. Anticipate."

Strasburg will get a chance to improve his fundamental skills when he faces the Royals on Wednesday at Nationals Park. Game time is 4:35 p.m. ET. But it's not the fundamentals that Royals right-hander Luke Hochevar wants to see. He wants to see Strasburg throw gas.

"He's the real deal. He throws 100 and has a really good curveball and a great changeup and he commands it. The sky's the limit for that guy," said Hochevar, who was the first overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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