Washington Nationals' manager Matt Williams announced this morning that Max Scherzer will start on Opening Day when the Nats take on the New York Mets on April 6th in Nationals Park.
Williams went with the 30-year-old right-hander who signed a 7-year/$210M deal this winter, giving Scherzer the nod over Stephen Strasburg, who started on Opening Day in each of the last three seasons, but is nursing a twisted ankle right now, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and left-hander Gio Gonzalez, though how seriously the other starters were considered is unclear.
"It’s a difficult [decision] but a good one at the same time," Williams told reporters, including Washington Post writer James Wagner, when he made the announcement:
"'We have really good, quality starting pitching. I can tell you this, to a man, the guys that are actually throwing the baseball, they don’t much care about it. They just want the ball every fifth day and to win.'"
Scherzer said it was an honor to get the start, but, as he explained to the WaPost reporter, "'... at the end of the day it’s just Game 1. We have 162 of these things and hopefully we can play as well we can for the entire season.'"
Scherzer joined the Nationals after five years in Detroit, where he was (82-35) in 161 starts with a 3.52 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 2.71 BB/9 and 9.60 K/9 for the Tigers.
Scherzer went (18-5), with a 3.15 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 63 walks (2.57 BB/9) and 252 Ks (10.29 K/9) in 33 starts and 220 ⅓ IP in a +5.6 fWAR 2014 campaign in his final year with the Tigers.
Through four starts this Spring, the right-hander is (1-0) with a 1.93 ERA, one walk and 14 Ks in 14 IP over which he's held opposing hitters to a combined .226 BAA.
Nationals SP Max Scherzer says coming to Washington was all about winning https://t.co/f0gGhY5TBE— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) March 23, 2015
Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo, in an interview with MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern today, said he was pleased with the early returns from Scherzer this Spring.
"It's great," Rizzo said. "The pitching performances speak for themselves, but he's meant a lot to the clubhouse. He's fit in very well, very quickly. He's one of the guys that leads not only by example but vocally and he's a no-nonsense guy on the mound that pitches with emotion and we kind of like having that type of guy in there."
Rizzo, in comments that were funny to anyone not named Steven Shell, told MLB.com reporter Bill Ladson in 2009 that he, "... didn’t like [Shell's] whole aura on the mound," after the right-hander was designated for assignment.
Rizzo said today that Scherzer's aura is impressive.
"He brings this aura of energy with him and he's got the resume to back it up," Rizzo explained, "and he's kind of a fun-loving guy, kind of a prankster and a guy who runs team events and that type of thing, so he's fit in nicely and couldn't have asked for a better acquisition and a presence in the clubhouse."
One difficult decision the Nationals faced after signing Scherzer this winter, was what to do with the rotation, which already featured five starters, including Tanner Roark, who went (15-10) in 31 starts in a +3.0 fWAR campaign in 2014, with a 2.85 ERA, a 3.47 FIP, 39 walks (1.77 BB/9) and 138 Ks (6.25 K/9) in 198 ⅔ IP.
Much to his credit, according to Rizzo, Roark made things easy for everyone involved when he was left as the odd man out.
"It was really one of the most selfless things that I've ever seen happen in baseball," Rizzo said of Roark's reaction to the news.
"This is a guy that could have really made things a little dicey for us with our decision to put him in the bullpen, but he made things smooth and comfortable for everybody and I think he's going to excel in the bullpen. We see his long-term position as a starting pitcher for us, but I think he's going to go to the bullpen and have a lot of success."
The Nationals made the tough decision on Roark when they had to, Rizzo explained, after discovering this winter that signing Scherzer was actually a possibility.
"The Scherzer transaction was something that wasn't in our blueprint going into the offseason," Rizzo said.
"But when we recognized that we had an opportunity to acquire a player like that -- and the structure of the contract is really what made it possible for us to do that, that structure part of it was done by ownership and Scott Boras that really made the deal work. We evaluated the talent, they evaluated the long-term deal and how it fit into our payroll constrictions and the deal worked out."
Listen to Rizzo's MLB Network Radio interview below:
Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo talks about seeing Max Scherzer out on the field https://t.co/yjNgJZmNWq— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) March 23, 2015