Strasburg to start opening day
VIERA, Fla. -- Not that there was any uncertainty about it, but Davey Johnson made it official nonetheless this morning: Stephen Strasburg will start Opening Day for the Nationals.
"I guess you want me to say it," the 70-year-old manager said. "He's going to be my Opening Day starter. You drug it out of me."
Johnson's selection of Strasburg is hardly a surprise. The right-hander got the Opening Day nod last season in Chicago, then went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts before his much-debated shutdown in early September after 159 1/3 innings.
But in a rotation that also boasts a 21-game winner (Gio Gonzalez), a top-10 ERA finisher (Jordan Zimmermann) and a three-time All-Star (Dan Haren), Johnson certainly had other viable options if he chose to go in another direction.
"That's a great honor," the manager said. "There's a lot of great starters in my rotation."
Strasburg will face a familiar foe April 1 at Nationals Park. This will be his 10th career start against the Marlins, more than he's made against any other opponent. Strasburg's results against Miami have run the gamut, from a 1-hit, 10-strikeout effort on the final day of the 2011 season to a ragged, 3-inning start last September that prompted the Nationals to shut him down one week earlier than originally planned.
Johnson hasn't announced how the rest of his rotation will set up during the season's first week, but he's not expected to break up the alignment he's used this spring: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Haren.
Gonzalez and Detwiler's participation in the World Baseball Classic could potentially throw a wrench into those plans, but Johnson said this morning he doesn't expect that to be a problem.
"No, there's enough time to set that up," he said. "It shouldn't affect us. [The WBC] is going be over the 19th, so that gives us about two weeks. We should be able to work that out."
Gonzalez tossed five scoreless innings for Team USA last night in a victory over Puerto Rico, and Johnson said he's been told the lefty is now in line to start next Tuesday night's championship game if the Americans advance.
Detwiler, who pitched four scoreless innings of relief Saturday against Italy, could appear out of the bullpen tomorrow night against the Dominican Republic or perhaps start the United States' subsequent game Friday or Saturday.
Johnson believes the WBC experience has been worthwhile for both of his young left-handers and noted that it was important for Gonzalez to perform well last night on a big stage in his hometown of Miami.
"Anytime you get to pitch on an international level like this one, which has grown into a great event, it's a great experience," he said. "Number one, there's a lot of pressure just representing your country. And then double that, he was pitching in his hometown. I think any experience like this is great."