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Nationals' starter Max Scherzer on getting Opening Day assignment, returning to NL

Max Scherzer met with reporters in Nationals Park on Saturday to talk about getting the Opening Day assignment for the Washington Nationals in the season opener against the New York Mets which is set to start at 4:05 PM EDT this afternoon.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

In five Grapefruit League starts, Max Scherzer was (1-0) with a 1.35 ERA (3 ER in 20 IP), one walk, 23 Ks and a .205 BAA.

Washington's 30-year-old right-hander and Opening Day starter, who signed a seven-year/$210M free agent deal with the Nationals in January, made one last start against minor leaguers last week as he prepared this afternoon's outing in the season opener against the New York Mets.

Nats' skipper Matt Williams told reporters on Saturday that he's been impressed with what he's seen so far from the one-time Cy Young Award winner who finished the 2014 campaign in Detroit at +5.6 fWAR with an (18-5) record in 33 starts and 220 ⅓ IP over which he posted a 3.15 ERA, a 2.85 FIP, 63 walks (2.57 BB/9) and 252 Ks (10.29 K/9).

"He's been great," Williams said. "Last time out, we said, 'We want you to make sure you get to 85 [pitches],' and he went to 102 and that was his call, because he wanted to put himself in a position where he had to battle out of something. So, that being said, he's everything as advertised. And we're excited for him on Monday."

"It's obviously cool to say that you've started on Opening Day before, but at the same time it really doesn't mean a whole lot." -Max Scherzer on getting Opening Day assignment

The addition of Scherzer to a collection of starters that already included Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister gives the Nationals one of the best rotations in baseball.

The Nationals are being talked about everywhere as favorites to win the NL East and go deep into the postseason, but as Scherzer explained when he met with reporters this weekend, as strong as the team looks on paper, they've yet to play a single game. Expectations are high, but that sort of talk is premature.

"We haven't done anything to meet any expectations yet," Scherzer said. "We've got to go out there and play good baseball, so hopefully we get off to a good start."

Scherzer will try to do his part to help the Nationals start the season strong when he takes the mound this afternoon at 4:05 PM EDT in D.C.

It will be the seven-year veteran's first Opening Day assignment. Nice as it is to get the nod, he was sure to note that it's not really that big a deal in the big picture.

"It's obviously cool to say that you've started on Opening Day before," he explained. "But at the same time it really doesn't mean a whole lot. Starting Game 1 of a playoff series, yeah, that means a little bit more. And that's hopefully something that we get to have a chance to play in. We've got to go out there and win this Ameri-- National League East, I should say... [laughter]... and -- I'm so used to saying 'American League' I haven't gotten used to saying, 'National League' yet.

"[We've got to] go out there and obviously we've got to win our division and it starts on Monday."

Though he hasn't started on Opening Day before, Scherzer has started big games, including ten in the postseason with the Tigers.

"The moment you try to control your adrenaline, you're in your head. And so for me, I'm a high adrenaline pitcher, so whenever a situation arises, I enjoy those situations..." -Nationals' starter Max Scherzer

Asked how he controlled his emotions and remained focused on the task at hand in pressure situations, Scherzer told the reporter who asked that he doesn't try to control his emotions at all.

"If anything, you use it," Scherzer said. "You let that adrenaline help you out. The moment you try to control your adrenaline, you're in your head. And so for me, I'm a high adrenaline pitcher, so whenever a situation arises, I enjoy those situations, using the moment to help fuel you and when you do that, that's when I pitch my best."

After five seasons in the American League, the one-time Arizona Diamondbacks' starter returns to the NL today, and a new league of hitters who don't have that much history facing the hard-throwing right-hander.

Scherzer will be facing some new hitters too, but as he explained it, he thinks pitchers have an edge early.

"The pitcher has the advantage when he gets to first face hitters, that for me, they're hitters I haven't seen before, or as frequently, I should say," he told reporters.

"And because they just haven't seen how my pitches move, that's something that I feel like that's an advantage to me. At the same time I'm trying to figure them out as well, but I feel like at the beginning of this, in the cat-and-mouse game between pitcher and hitter, the pitcher has the advantage."

The Nationals announced yesterday that a number of expected everyday contributors will start the season on the DL with last year's 1-2-and-3 hitters, Denard Span, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth among those recovering from injuries as the season gets underway today.

As Scherzer said, however, he can't go out on the mound looking to do it all himself and compensate for their absence.

"You just can't let your train of thought go down that path," Scherzer said. "The moment you try to do to much is when you start missing your executions. So, for me, all I can do is go out there and be prepared as possible to face the Mets and go out there and try to execute as many pitches as possible.

"Whether the guys are healthy or not, that's just stuff that's out of my control. The simpler you keep it, the more success you can have in this game."

So... now that he's about to take the mound on Opening Day in D.C., Scherzer was asked if he ever skipped school to take in a season opener?

"No, parents wouldn't let me," he said.

But he understands the feeling of waiting for the new season to start and finally having that day arrive.

"Everybody is excited. Baseball is back. You feel like this is kind of a dead time in sports. So when baseball is back and it's every single day, it just feels right."

At 4:05 PM EDT this afternoon, baseball will officially be back in the nation's capital. Max Scherzer will be on the hill in Nationals Park.

Baseball is back.