"I like to put my best foot forward from the get-go," Davey Johnson told reporters last March when he announced that a then-23-year-old Stephen Strasburg would be the Washington Nationals' Opening Day starter against the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field. It wasn't really a difficult decision for the then-69-year-old skipper. "'It was easy. Very easy. He's my opening say starter,'" Johnson was quoted stating. In an appearance on ESPN980's The Sports Fix with Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro, Strasburg said it was an honor to be named the Opening Day starter, but the first game of the year was not what was important. "Obviously it would be a huge honor," the '09 no.1 overall pick explained, "but I'm more focused on how we finish the season and not necessarily how we start it."
Strasburg, of course, wasn't available when the Nationals' 2012 season did end. He was shut down as planned after 159.1 IP in his first full-year back following Tommy John surgery. As he explained in an interview this morning on The Mike and Mike in the Morning Show on ESPNRadio, it was obviously not an enjoyable experience. "It's kind of hard to explain," Strasburg said, "As an athlete and a competitor, it's the last thing you want to do, is when you know you're 100% healthy and you want to perform and help your team that you're not allowed to. So it's something that I've never experienced before and hopefully I'll never experience again."
In hindsight, the right-hander said, "You can definitely look back and see the reasons why they did it," but, Strasburg continued, "It's tough to really predict the future and at that moment you really want to be out there and give it everything you have and live in the moment. But it's all water under the bridge, so I'm just excited for the opportunities that we have this year."
Among those opportunities is the chance to be the Nationals' Opening Day starter for the second-straight year. A now-70-year-old Davey Johnson reluctantly admitted that the now-24-year-old Strasburg would be his starter on April 1st when the team plays the first game of the 2013 campaign at home against the Miami Marlins. "I think you guys pretty much know," Johnson joked with reporters, "You always are trying to get me to say something about two weeks ahead of time." When pressed, Johnson relented, "I guess you want me to say it?"
"You drug it out of me," the manager said. It will be Stephen Strasburg again on Opening Day. "He's just got great stuff," Johnson said in explaining his decision, "He's very dedicated. He works very hard. That's a great honor. We've got a lot of great starters in [our] rotation." Strasburg told reporters, as quoted by MLB.com's Bill Ladson, that it will be exciting to open the season for the defending NL East champs in front of the hometown crowd:
"It's a tremendous honor, and I'm definitely excited," Strasburg said. "Last year, obviously, it was an experience in its own right at Wrigley Field. This time, it will be fun to pitch the home opener, too. The atmosphere is going to be electric."
Marlins' Manager Mike Redmond named his Opening Day starter last week. 30-year-old right-hander Ricky Nolasco will pitch for the Fish and oppose Strasburg in Game 1 of 162. The seven-year-veteran was (12-13) for the Marlins last season, with a 4.48 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 47 walks (2.21 BB/9) and 125 Ks (5.89 K/9) in 31 starts and 191.0 IP over which he was worth +2.7 fWAR. Strasburg finished his third major league season at +4.3 fWAR with a (15-6) record, 48 walks (2.71 BB/9) and 197 Ks (11.13 K/9) in 28 starts and 159.1 IP. Not a bad matchup...
Is it Opening Day yet?