VIERA, Fla. - The Nationals’ rotation is loaded with talent, but in manager Davey Johnson’s mind, there was only one real choice to start opening day.
That guy is Stephen Strasburg.
Johnson announced Strasburg as his April 5 opening day starter in Chicago this morning, less than 12 hours after Strasburg delivered his finest outing of spring, throwing five one-run innings and striking out three.
“It was easy. Very easy,” Johnson said. “It has nothing to do with favoritism. He’s my opening day starter.”
Johnson named Gio Gonzalez as his No. 2 starter, or as he called him, his “1B.” The rotation beyond Gonzalez has not yet been announced, but it’s probably safe to pencil in Jordan Zimmermann as the No. 3 starter, followed by Edwin Jackson.
The No. 5 slot is still somewhat uncertain, with Chien-Ming Wang battling a hamstring injury and John Lannan and Ross Detwiler vying for the final starting spot. Lannan holds the clear edge at this point, however.
With Gonzalez set to start the second game of the season, it would also line him up to be on the mound for the Nationals’ home opener April 12.
There had been some question as to whether Johnson would push Strasburg back in the rotation to start the year, allowing him to work deeper into the season before reaching his 160-inning limit, when he’ll be shut down to protect his surgically repaired right elbow.
But Johnson said he never entertained such a thought.
“I like to put my best foot forward from the get-go,” Johnson said.
Johnson was thoroughly impressed with what he saw from Strasburg last night, when the righty overcame some early-spring rust and delivered his finest outing of the Grapefruit League campaign. Strasburg had admitted to overthrowing and trying to do too much in his prior outings, but was more under control last night.
“He settled in,” Johnson said. “He pitched.”
Strasburg was given the news that he’d be starting opening day by pitching coach Steve McCatty.
Johnson said giving Strasburg the ball on opening day was something that was discussed all the way back to the Winter Meetings, but after watching the 23-year-old work this spring, the decision became clear.
“I don’t just look at velocity or strikeouts or hits per inning, I look at everything,” Johnson said. “It’s my job to look at what the player’s expecting, what his teammates are expecting, what I think, what my pitching coach thinks. Every little aspect goes into that. It’s an honor.”