VIERA, Fla. – Stephen Strasburg will be the Nationals opening day starter when the team takes on the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field April 5.
Strasburg was informed of the club’s decision by pitching Coach Steve McCatty Wednesday morning after the 23-year-old right-hander had thrown five innings against the Mets the night before allowing a run on two hits in a 2-0 loss.
“It’s a tremendous honor but there is still a lot of work to be done,” Strasburg said. “It’s just one game and hopefully the games will be mattering a lot more at the end of the year for us.”
“I think anyone wants the opportunity to pitch opening day and to be able to say I have that under my belt, it’s awesome. It’s a great feeling and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
As it turns out, manager Davey Johnson had his mind made up on this going back to the winter meetings in December in Dallas as he, General Manager Mike Rizzo and the rest of the Nationals brain trust went about figuring out the best way to prepare Strasburg for his first full season in the big leagues.
Strasburg was not having a real good spring statistically. He has yet to win a game and is 0-3 with a 5.52 ERA. Strasburg was overthrowing during his first three starts but Tuesday against the Mets he had better command and Johnson felt that reinforced his decision further.
“I know what pitchers go through and you want to make sure they are where you want them to be, basically at this time of the spring” Johnson said. “If they have had three outings and gone through their conditioning program, overthrowing, wildness to where I feel they are in a good spot then I start announcing number one for opening day.”
Strasburg, who missed most of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery, is scheduled to be on a 160 innings pitch limit this season. He came back last year and pitched in September making five starts, going 1-1 with an ERA of 1.50 and Johnson said the innings limit or the possibility of cold weather in Chicago on opening day had nothing to do with the decision.
“I’ve heard these different theories from the experts, but I have a little experience in that area, too,” Johnson said. “Everything in my baseball mind says to pitch him where he belongs to pitch. If you got to shut him down, you shut him down. End of story.”
“Some college professor may dream up, he’s the fifth starter and then you miss two or three starts, he could actually pitch the clincher for the playoffs or some crap. You know, have it all figured out. Well, I like to put my best foot forward from the get go,” he said.
Johnson also said left-hander Gio Gonzalez will get the second start of the season on Saturday after the off day.
This the fifth club Johnson has managed during his 15-year managerial career and having a 1-2 like Strasburg and Gonzalez can match up against any for him.
“Certainly as good as I’ve had in my estimation,” he said. “Certainly stuff wise, and potential wise, neither of them have won 20 games. I’ve played with and managed a lot of good pitchers but these two guys are pretty special.”