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Could Zimmermann get Opening Day nod over Strasburg?

Feb 26, 2014, 3:30 PM EST

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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.”

  1. natinalsgo - Feb 26, 2014 at 3:40 PM

    I think Jordan Z is more deserving but so was Gio last year but this is about winning out of the gate and setting up the rotation. I give the ball to Strasburg.

  2. David Proctor - Feb 26, 2014 at 3:42 PM

    This really isn’t a hard decision. Strasburg was better than JZimm and Gio in every single category except wins and innings pitched.

    • natinalsgo - Feb 26, 2014 at 3:46 PM

      The Cy voters disagree. Going deep into games and quality starts matter. I will say Stras didn’t get the respect he deserved last year because of W/L and that’s not right

    • bowdenball - Feb 26, 2014 at 3:50 PM

      Well Zimmermann also has the lower BB/9. But yeah, this really shouldn’t be a serious discussion. Strasburg was the better pitcher last year by any reasonable measure once you remove innings pitched.

      And if anything, the disparity in IP is more reason to start Strasburg opening day. The team has a day off after opening day before playing 5 in a row and 25 over the next 26 days. If you’re worried that Strasburg might mean an extra inning of work for the bullpen, better for it to come on March 31, not April 2.

      This should not be a difficult decision.

  3. Hiram Hover - Feb 26, 2014 at 3:50 PM

    As long are we’re speculating about things – whether JZimm or Stras is the OD pitcher, who gets the home opener 3 games later?

    If we’re all thinking of Fister as the #4 pitcher, it would seem to fall to him. Starting the home opener would be a nice intro to the hometown faithful, if not exactly a marquee name to excite more casual fans.

  4. natsfan1a - Feb 26, 2014 at 4:15 PM

    OT but I just learned that MASN won’t do any more joint broadcast of Nats/O’s games. Yay!

    • TimDz - Feb 26, 2014 at 4:17 PM

      It’s now official…one of the N.I. cool kids noted the MASN change…

      • natsfan1a - Feb 26, 2014 at 4:26 PM

        fwiw, I’ve been busy this week and not reading Mark’s posts or the associated comments. I took a few minutes to check out the team site just now and noticed a thread about the MASN change, so I thought I’d point it out. That being said, thanks ever so for anointing me a “cool kid,” as I never was one back in the day. I was the one sitting by herself in the lunch room, reading “Crime and Punishment.” (Yeah, I know. Too much information. But I digress. Have a super day!)

    • Section 222 - Feb 26, 2014 at 5:33 PM

      And make sure to check out the comments. Hilarious.

    • nats128 - Feb 26, 2014 at 7:59 PM

      That is GREAT GREAT GREAT news. I couldnt stand it. Im sure Ballmore fans felt the same way.

    • Sonny G 10 - Feb 26, 2014 at 10:38 PM

      Yippie!!!!!!!! Those combined broadcasts were hard to take. Everybody trying to be nice to one another was enough to make me puke!

  5. Kenz aFan - Feb 26, 2014 at 4:17 PM

    OMG, give me a break already…

    It’s WAY TOO EARLY to be trying to guess at who will open the season in New York. Off days and rains out will play a MAJOR PART in setting up who starts that opening game. Besides, the Nats don’t have to decide for a couple of weeks yet.

    If we have our Starting Pitchers pitch every FIFTH GAME and not every five days, the opening day slot doesn’t come up until Tuesday against the Braves. Friday’s start by Jordan, is SLOT TWO, meaning Saturday’s game is SLOT THREE.

    Assuming starting pitchers will pitch every 5th day all the way through string training is nuts. It’s never happened and wont again this year…

  6. letswin3 - Feb 26, 2014 at 4:40 PM

    Off Topic: I just looked over the regular season schedule. The first 15 games of the regular season are all against National League East opponents, and 6 of the 15 are the home and away series with the Braves. Sure looks like an opportunity to get off to a fast start. And every win in April is one they won’t have to make up in September. Please don’t tell me to “relax, it’s still early” … bad memories from those words last season. I want to grab the National League East by the throat EARLY, and then never let up. Killer instinct stuff.

    • David Proctor - Feb 26, 2014 at 4:52 PM

      I mean, if people freak out over losing one game, I’ll still say “relax, it’s early.” But if we’re off to a slow start after the first month or so, it’s understandable to be concerned.

      • therealjohnc - Feb 26, 2014 at 10:36 PM

        Yeah. For the record, there are many times that fans have said “relax, it’s early” and been absolutely correct. For years it seemed that the Orioles would get off to a hot start and by mid-May their fans would be excited. But the “relax, it’s early” fans in New York and other cities in the AL East were all exactly right. The O’s would swoon in June and say good-bye by July. We won’t even mention 2005.

        Don’t get me wrong; it’s always better to win than lose. But the important thing to remember (whether the Nats are out front our treading water) is that it’s a LOOOOONG season.

  7. Doc - Feb 26, 2014 at 5:08 PM

    Probably means more to the pitcher, and the anointed one has been SS since he stepped on the Big League mound.

    But really, our bulldog last year was JZim—–and he probably deserves to do the opening game!

    However, it would take some cojones on Williams’ part to do it the JZim way.

    • therealjohnc - Feb 26, 2014 at 10:43 PM

      I love me some Jordan Zimmermann, and he is/was a bulldog, but Strasburg was better. Strasburg just couldn’t figure out how to get the team to score runs when he was pitching.

      It’s moot anyway; Gio finished in the top 3 in the Cy Young voting in 2012 and Strasburg was the 2013 Opening Day starter anyway. As you may remember Stras pitched a shutout, and he had to because the team only scored two runs on two Harper HRs. In it’s own way it was foreshadowing of Strasburg’s 2013 season with it’s weird lack of run support. JZ should have been able to sympathize, since he’s had seasons like that before!

  8. Faraz Shaikh - Feb 26, 2014 at 5:19 PM

    I vote Strasburg.

  9. sjm308 - Feb 26, 2014 at 5:27 PM

    I vote Strasburg as well and I also vote to not read “Relax, we got this” I love the originator of that quote on here and agree with him way more then not but that one drove me nuts. He has every right to feel that way, just come up with a new phrase or lets hope its not necessary. How is this scenario? We win 2 out of 3 in our first two series. Then sweep the Marlins, go back to winning 2 of 3 again from the Braves and rematch with the Marlins and then split with the Cards. That gives us a a 14 – 6 start in our first 20 games and we never look back!! Let an old man dream!

    go Nats!!!

    • David Proctor - Feb 26, 2014 at 6:17 PM

      People will still freak out at the 1 loss in those 2/3!

      • sjm308 - Feb 26, 2014 at 11:19 PM

        But the one thing I can count on David is that you will be the calming voice of reason & not let the negativity spread. You really did a good job of that last year & it was appreciated by this old fan.

  10. veejh - Feb 26, 2014 at 5:27 PM

    I’d be happy w any of our top 4 starting. Hell, throw in Fister. He can get it done.

  11. Section 222 - Feb 26, 2014 at 5:39 PM

    Gio most definitely can be eliminated from the conversation. The only guy with a claim other than Stras is JZnn. I’d stick with Stras, unless they think giving JZnn the O.D. nod will make him more likely to come to terms on a reasonable long term deal. That seems doubtful. He’s got his eye on the prize.

  12. DaveB - Feb 26, 2014 at 5:45 PM

    I agree with Hiram that it is perhaps more interesting to think about who should pitch the home series against the Braves … with the off day, do you want to skip the #5 pitcher and line up something like Fister, Stras, JZim (or Gio) against the Braves?

    • adcwonk - Feb 27, 2014 at 12:05 AM

      Nah, no need to juggle the pitching rotation the very first week.

  13. Jb - Feb 26, 2014 at 6:13 PM

    Zim could start the opener and Stras could start the home opener. Then the rotation could be set up as Zim (r) Gio (l) Fister (r) Stras (r) and Det (l), assuming Det is #5. That would work fine.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Feb 26, 2014 at 9:06 PM

      with couple of more heaters behind simmons from strasburg will set the tone!!! 😛

      • ArVAFan - Feb 26, 2014 at 9:36 PM

        Fister could handle any of the Braves. He does have a relatively high HBP count (although that could be just because he pitches inside. Or not).

        Seriously, I like Fister as the home opener starter. He seems unflappable, and the Braves wouldn’t have seen him before. Two good qualifications for the home opener–not to mention that he seems to be pitching well in Viera.

  14. Sonny G 10 - Feb 26, 2014 at 10:33 PM

    I vote for Strasburg for opening day pitcher, but would not be upset to see JZim or Gio get the nod.





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