The ball came screaming off Prince Fielder's bat, struck Stephen Strasburg's left arm and then careened into shallow center field as the crowd of 7,199 at Space Coast Stadium let out a collective gasp followed by a momentary holding of the breath as the Nationals' trainer and pitching coach jogged to the mound to check on their ace.

In the end, there was nothing for everyone to be worried about. The fourth-inning comebacker caught Strasburg on the fleshy pad of his left thumb, not on a less-protected part of his hand, wrist or forearm. And after a couple minutes spent getting the feeling back in the hand and then throwing a couple of warm-up tosses, Strasburg was back to his old self, striking out a pair of Tigers to end the inning and continue his Grapefruit League start unabated.

"It's fine," the right-hander insisted afterward. "It just kind of numbed up a little bit out there. It's a little tender, but nothing crazy."

The Nationals haven't had any real serious injury scares this spring, one of many reasons why this team feels like it's well-positioned to storm out of the gates strong when the season opens in 10 days. But that brief instant this afternoon was a stark reminder that good vibes can poof into thin air with one freak injury to a star player.

"It was a scare," manager Davey Johnson said. "No doubt about it."

Johnson joined head trainer Lee Kuntz and pitching coach Steve McCatty at the mound after the incident and spent several minutes talking to Strasburg as he shook his left hand trying to get the feeling back.

"It just took a while for it to kind of sink in that it hit me," the pitcher said. "It just kind of got numb, just shook it out and it was tender after that."