Feb 26, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
VIERA, Fla. — You always have to be careful not to read too much into what happens in spring training, especially when the calendar shows it’s still February, so read the following with a bushel full of grains of salt…
Jordan Zimmermann is currently on a five-day schedule that would line him up to start Opening Day for the Nationals.
Manager Matt Williams isn’t revealing much of anything yet when it comes to rotation and lineup plans, but we do know that Taylor Jordan is starting Friday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Mets and Zimmermann will pitch Saturday against the Braves in Viera.
Some quick math shows that if Zimmermann pitches every fifth day the rest of the spring, he’d be lined up to take the mound March 31 at Citi Field.
Now, time to insert a major caveat to this whole line of reasoning: Williams has specifically said he and pitching coach Steve McCatty don’t need to arrange their season-opening rotation in order until the final week-and-a-half of camp, roughly around their March 18 day off.
“I caution myself in saying anything that would point in any direction at this point, because you just don’t know,” the manager said. “As we get kind of around that off-day, then we’ll have a much better idea how it’s all going to play out.”
So there’s not a whole lot of evidence yet to suggest who will get the nod for Game 1, but that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss who should get the nod.
Stephen Strasburg has started Opening Day each of the last two seasons (and has pitched exceptionally well in each instance) and certainly is the easy choice to start that game again this year. Though his 8-9 record suggested a sub-par performance in 2013, all of his other numbers (3.00 ERA, 1.049 WHIP, 191 strikeouts in 183 innings) suggested he again dominated big-league lineups.
Zimmermann, though, has just as strong a case coming off an All-Star season in which he won a league-best 19 games with a 3.25 ERA, 1.088 WHIP and a superb 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
And it would be unfair to completely eliminate Gio Gonzalez from the conversation after the left-hander went 11-8 with a 3.36 ERA, striking out 192 batters in 195 2/3 innings in a strong follow-up to his 21-win performance in 2012.
Point is, Williams does have an actual decision to make at some point, and he does need to consider how each of the potential choices might react to that decision.
“I think everybody understands,” Williams said. “Everybody understands that every game is important. I caution myself in doing something like that, because at this point we need to see their progression through spring. Everybody’s well aware of the guys we have on this club and their accomplishments and how well they’ve done.”
We all probably put more emphasis on the naming of the Opening Day starter than it deserves, but it does still mean something to the guy entrusted with the ball for that game. And in the case of a Nationals rotation that features at least three pitchers worthy of serious consideration, it’s certainly a discussion-worthy topic.
“I think it’s an honor for the guy who gets the ball on Opening Day,” Williams said. “We all certainly want to get off to a great start, and everybody wants to win that first game because it feels good and it’s good momentum and all those things. For me, I think it’s important for our guys to feel good and get excited about themselves and all that stuff.
“They’re all going to pitch, though. They’re all going to get the ball at some point that week. And every game means the same as far as importance goes.”
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