WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Don't just assume you're going to get that blockbuster Max Scherzer vs. Bryce Harper matchup in the latter's return to Washington as a visiting player.
Tempting as it may be to send Scherzer (and then Stephen Strasburg) to the mound for the Nationals' April 2-3 games against Harper and the Phillies, manager Davey Martinez might decide to take advantage of the plethora of early April off-days on the schedule and give his top two starters some extra rest.
When Harper's 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies was finalized last week, observers couldn't help but immediately speculate about the possibility of Scherzer starting one of those two games at Nationals Park against his former teammate. And the three-time Cy Young Award winner could still do it and pitch on normal rest.
But Martinez also pointed out the rationale behind using all five members of his rotation from the outset of the season and giving Scherzer and Strasburg extra days of rest that could benefit them over the long haul.
"We haven't decided what we want to do," Martinez said. "But the biggest thing is health and weather. When we get there, I like giving them those extra days. I think it helps them later on in the season."
The Nationals have five scheduled off-days in the season's first 19 days. That includes March 29 (the day after opening day against the Mets), April 1 (the day before the Phillies come to town for a two-game series) and April 5 (the day after the Mets' home opener at Citi Field).
If he pitched every fifth day, Scherzer would be lined up to start opening day against the Mets, then April 2 vs. Philly and April 7 at New York. But if he pitches every fifth game, Scherzer would then make his second start April 4 at New York and April 10 at Philly.
Martinez isn't committing to anything yet, but he does see some benefit to it.
"Look, as of right now we've got five or six pretty good starters that we could actually rotate," he said. "And I think it's better for them in the long run when they have that extra day early. Because come the dog days of August, they'll be fresh."