Strasburg named Nationals' Opening Day starter
Right-hander gets nod for second straight year, calls selection 'tremendous honor'
VIERA, Fla. -- Manager Davey Johnson announced Wednesday morning that right-hander Stephen Strasburg will be the Nationals' Opening Day starter against the Marlins at Nationals Park on April 1.
"He has great stuff. He is very dedicated, works very hard," Johnson said. "That's a great honor. We have a lot of great starters in our rotation."
It marks the second year in a row Strasburg will pitch the first game of the season for Washington. Last year, he pitched seven innings and allowed a run against the Cubs, but he didn't earn a decision in the 2-1 victory.
"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.
"The fans are really pumped, everybody is really excited for baseball season to begin again. Everybody is coming into the park a little bit early to see all the new faces and stuff. Hopefully, we can get started [with a victory]."
Naming Strasburg the Opening Day starter shouldn't come as a surprise. He was Washington's best starting pitcher last year, going 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts. However, he was limited to 159 1/3 innings after having Tommy John surgery in 2010. Strasburg missed the postseason against the Cardinals because he was on an innings limit.
But don't think for a minute that Strasburg is satisfied with what he accomplished last year. He felt he did a good job sticking to the game plan when he was on the mound, but he wants to pitch the entire season, pitch over 200 innings and trust his mechanics while pitching in the stretch. Strasburg had trouble pitching in the stretch against the Braves on Monday and allowed four runs in the sixth inning.
"It's just trusting my mechanics in the stretch and not really trying to mess around with it," Strasburg said. "It was hard the first couple of outings when you are not feeling right. Then you want to kind of change everything. But it's more the repetition that you need. Once you get through that more and more, you will get more comfortable out there."
Strasburg is more than just a pitcher. He won his first Silver Slugger award after hitting .277 with a home run and seven RBIs last year.
Asked if he needed to improve his hitting, Strasburg said, "My goal as a hitter is to get the job done whichever way possible. If there is a guy that needs to be moved over to second, I want to get the bunt down. If that mean hitting behind the runner, I want to do that, too. I'm not trying to do too much. If I can just keep doing that, try and make the pitcher work and be a tough out, it will help our offense be good."
What impresses third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and shortstop Ian Desmond about Strasburg is his work ethic. Strasburg is always looking to get better, both players said.
"The first thing that everyone talks about is the stuff," Zimmerman said. "He has got some stuff that a lot of pitchers don't have. But I think his work ethic is not surprising, but it impresses me the most. Obviously, he is super talented. He can do some stuff on the mound that a lot of people haven't been able to do. He also worked hard every day between starts. He wants to be that workhorse guy."
Said Desmond, "Ever since I met the guy, he is striving to get better and he is really good. He is not complacent with where he is at, which I think is unbelievable. It's really hard to fight that comfort level, when you are a phenom. To get the label put on you and continue to strive to get better -- he has done that from Day 1. He wants to be the horse. He wants to be that guy that goes out there and battles for his teammates every day. He is an impressive athlete."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.