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Strasburg will start Opening Day

Mar 19, 2014, 9:35 PM EDT

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VIERA, Fla. — Matt Williams gave it consideration, waited as long as he could before making an announcement. In the end, though, the answer was obvious: Stephen Strasburg will start Opening Day for the Nationals again.

Williams finally made that official Wednesday night, naming Strasburg his No. 1 starter for the Nationals’ season opener March 31 at the Mets.

“He’s earned it,” the rookie manager said.

This will be Strasburg’s third consecutive Opening Day start, but Williams insists he did give serious consideration to Jordan Zimmermann on the heels of an NL-leading 19-win season.

Strasburg, though, brings experience, dominant stuff and a desire to elevate his performance to new heights after an up-and-down 2013 that saw him post a 3.00 ERA over a career-high 30 starts but finish with a disappointing 8-9 record due to a lack of run support and several early exits from games due to injury or other unforeseen circumstances.

“He wants to be even better than he is,” Williams said. “Coming into spring, certainly one of his objectives was to hold baserunners better. He’ working on those things here because he wants to be as good as he can possibly be.”

Strasburg has enjoyed plenty of success in his two previous Opening Day starts. He allowed one run over seven innings against the Cubs in 2012 in a game his teammates won with a late rally. Last year he shut out the Marlins over seven dominant innings, earning the win.

Williams not only is keeping his Opening Day starter intact from previous seasons, but the first-time manager also plans to keep his top three starters in order. Gio Gonzalez will again start the season’s second game (April 2 at the Mets), with Zimmermann starting the next afternoon at Citi Field.

It’s perhaps rare for the league’s reigning wins leader and an All-Star to serve as his club’s No. 3 starter, but the Nationals are confident that designation doesn’t faze Zimmermann.

“We spoke to Jordan. He’s good with whatever and wherever he pitches,” Williams said. “Opening Day is important, but the rest of the days are important, too.”

The Mets haven’t announced their rotation plans yet, but with Matt Harvey recovering from Tommy John surgery and Jon Niese dealing with a shoulder injury, manager Terry Collins is expected to use veteran right-hander Bartolo Colon on Opening Day, with Zach Wheeler and Dillon Gee also pitching in the opening series.

Williams isn’t ready to name the rest of his season-opening rotation yet, needing first to see how Doug Fister looks in his return to the mound Saturday and beyond. If Fister is able to build up his arm enough, he would start the season’s fourth game (the Nationals’ April 4 home opener against the Braves).

If Fister needs a little extra time, though, the Nationals could use their No. 5 starter (either Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan or Chris Young) in the season’s fourth game, then bring back Strasburg April 5 on normal rest before sending Fister to the mound for their April 6 series finale against Atlanta.

The eventual rotation order won’t matter much, but Williams recognizes the significance of Opening Day and wanted to make sure Strasburg had the ball in his hand to throw the Nationals’ first pitch of the season.

“Opening Day is special, and it’s an honor for anyone who is chosen to go Opening Day,” the manager said. “Is it more important than any other start he’s going to make during the year? No. But it’s Opening Day. And so he’s ready for it. He’s excited for it. And so are we.”

  1. nats128 - Mar 19, 2014 at 9:41 PM

    To the surprize of no one.

  2. Eric - Mar 19, 2014 at 10:00 PM

    Ahem…
    “Strasburg had the ball in his hand to through the Nationals’ first pitch of the season.

    Carry on ;)

    • Hiram Hover - Mar 19, 2014 at 10:17 PM

      Well sure it’s going through – he’s Stephen Strasburg. He throws really hard.

  3. therealjohnc - Mar 19, 2014 at 10:47 PM

    Sadly, I couldn’t help but think “Dillon Gee … why does it have to be Dillon Gee?” Hopefully the Nats solve him in 2014, because they sure couldn’t in 2013.

    • Eric - Mar 19, 2014 at 11:08 PM

      +1

    • bowdenball - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:05 AM

      Sure they did. They put up 4 runs on 9 hits in 6.1 innings and won the game 6-3 on September 10. They also hung 4 runs on him over 7 innings in another comfortable win (4-1) on July 27. He had a solid game against them in between those two outings on August 30, but the Nats still put two runs on 6 hits (two Hrs) on him and won the game 3-2. That’s three straight wins in Dillon Gee starts to close the season

      The “Nats can’t beat Dillon Gee” thing is kind of like the “Jordan Zimmermann gets no run support” thing. The early narrative survives despite later regression.

      • therealjohnc - Mar 20, 2014 at 11:40 AM

        It’s not that they can’t beat Gee, it’s that he’s a bit less than mediocre against everyone else and noticeably good against the Nationals. He went 4-2 last year against the Nats with a 2.71 ERA and a 1.185 WHIP and a K/BB of 3.38 – all much better than his overall marks, to say nothing of what those overall marks would have been without all that feasting on the Nationals. THAT is what is infuriating.

  4. Faraz Shaikh - Mar 20, 2014 at 6:48 AM

    Good good! Not much history with Colon so hard to pull stats on him against our guys.

  5. thelatencn - Mar 20, 2014 at 7:24 AM

    Not to worry. After the way we pounded Jarred “Cy Young” Cosart last night, I’m sure we can handle anybody. ;)

    • nats128 - Mar 20, 2014 at 7:49 AM

      Think how different it would have been last night if the Nats played good defense behind Taylor Jordan. The game would have been 0-0 until the bullpens took over.
      .
      This is how the Nats have to beat any Ace not that Im saying Cosart is a Ace. Look how Strasburg just beat Jose Fernandez. Manufacture runs and pitch as well or better.

    • NatsLady - Mar 20, 2014 at 8:11 AM

      The guys don’t play so great after an off-day… What new?

      • therealjohnc - Mar 20, 2014 at 11:42 AM

        Well, FP did say he thought they didn’t play well after an off day. Offensively that’s just not true. The actual numbers:

        Average runs scored after at least one day off: 3.95
        Times scoring 0 or 1 run: 3
        Total such games: 19.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Mar 20, 2014 at 8:56 AM

      he did have less than 2 ERA in ten outings last season.

  6. nats128 - Mar 20, 2014 at 8:29 AM

    Oh my, just saw the video of Aroldis Chapman taking a line drive off of his face above his left eye. He will certainly start the season on the DL. Nats play the Reds the first time on May 19th.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2014/03/19/aroldis-chapman-leaves-game-after-being-hit-in-head-by-line-drive-game-cancelled/6638029/

    • Faraz Shaikh - Mar 20, 2014 at 8:41 AM

      feel sorry for the kid! this has been an atrocious spring training for fans pretty much everywhere!

  7. dogface13 - Mar 20, 2014 at 8:31 AM

    As it is, we are throwing our 3 best pitchers against the Mets and our 2 weakest against the Braves. I was hoping the MW would line up the rotation on that JZim would start game #4, the home opener against the Braves, and Gio would start game #5. I understand that goes against convention, but it gives us our best chance to beat the Braves. NL East title goes thru Atlanta. Plus home opener for JZim is a nice perk.

  8. Hiram Hover - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:00 AM

    Ayala to the Os. That didn’t take long.

  9. ehay2k - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:01 AM

    Awful about Chapman. And with those kind of injuries, there can be a huge mental component when the pitcher comes back. I hope Chapman heals quickly, and in all respects.

    Am I the only nervous Nellie right now because the Nats seem to have been fairly free of injuries this ST? Normally, there are a few players nicked up, or worse, during ST that go on the DL and we have time to find replacements and tread water until the starters return. Does the lack of injuries now mean they are due for a slew of injuries during the regular season? I hope not, but the specter of top guys going down during the season will be there all year, at least for me.

    Stay healthy guys!

    • NatsLady - Mar 20, 2014 at 9:35 AM

      I didn’t watch the Chapman video. I can still picture the Desi comebacker that hit Juan Nicasio in Colorado. Vividly. Hopefully Chapman can return as Nicasio has.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:01 AM

        The video in the linked-to article is a fan with a cell phone several rows back and to the 1st base side, but behind the screen, so it’s hard to tell exactly, but he had no chance. Doesn’t look like a helmet would have helped in this case, either.

      • Hiram Hover - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:10 AM

        It’s odd that USA Today provided that crappy cell phone video.

        MLB has the video on their website–better camera work and higher def, but no, he didn’t really have a chance.

    • Eric - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:30 AM

      It seems to me that we’ve taken a preventative approach. I can’t help but wonder if any of the many pitchers whose seasons have already been ended by injury were pitching through something like Fister and RZimm were experiencing.

      I will say I’m a little worried about RZimm. Wish I’d seen the bad throw. It sounds like it could’ve been that he just rushed it… really hoping that’s all it was.

      • Jb - Mar 20, 2014 at 10:59 AM

        He made a diving stop, got up and threw 3/4s, and pulled LaRoche off the bag, but not by all that much. The official scorer changed his ruling to hit. Chill out. This play had nothing to do with his shoulder.

      • Eric - Mar 20, 2014 at 11:40 AM

        I honestly wouldn’t even be asking if it weren’t for some very alarmed comments in the game thread ;).

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