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Stephen Strasburg will start Opening Day, with Gio Gonzalez starting the home opener.
But when it came to making their choice, manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty didn't agonize much at all. They knew Stephen Strasburg was the best choice.
Why? Allow McCatty to explain.
"Because I still have the lasting impression of seeing him in the past and that game in Miami when he struck out 10 [to end the 2011 season]," the pitching coach said. "The guy's a No. 1 starter. Gio's done great. All the guys are doing great. But Stephen is who he is. And I'm knocking anybody else, but here's a guy that is pretty special. You send your No. 1 guy out there. In my opinion, he's it."
For a franchise that over the years has struggled to find anyone worthy of Opening Day honors -- the four previous pitchers to do it were Livan Hernandez (2005-06, 2011), John Patterson (2007), Odalis Perez (2008) and John Lannan (2009-10) -- it's pretty remarkable that the Nationals had as many as four legitimate options for the job this spring.
"Zim could be that guy," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "Gio could be that guy. Edwin's pitched in the World Series. John's thrown 200-some [innings], been consistent. ... I think we're very lucky to have that. It's a luxury, but I think Stras is obviously able to handle it."
Indeed, how could the Nationals not give the ball on April 5 to Strasburg, who may be short on career accomplishments but more than makes up for it with the dominance he's displayed during his 19 big-league starts?
Some would say the naming of the Opening Day starter is overblown, much ballyhooed by the media and fans but not all that significant to players inside the clubhouse.
That may be partially true, but there's more to it. Johnson didn't just name Strasburg his Opening Day starter this morning. He anointed the 23-year-old as the ace of his staff. The guy who will set the tone for everyone else. The guy who will be asked to snap losing streaks, out-pitch fellow aces and lead the entire club into battle every fifth day.
There's a lot of responsibility that comes with the title of "No. 1 starter." And the Nationals believe Strasburg not only can handle it, but relishes it as well.
"I'm sure he took that as an honor," McCatty said. "That's something he wants. You all know he's driven in what he wants. And for him to be the No. 1, I'm sure he felt good about it."
Strasburg's teammates sense that as well.
"I think he wants to be that guy," Zimmerman said. "He wants to be the guy that throws 200-something innings and wins 20 games. I think he works hard to try and become that."
In some clubhouses, there could be resentment over a young starter with so little experience being handed the designation of staff ace. Not in this one.
"He's the right man for the job," said Gonzalez, who is in line to start the April 12 home opener against the Reds. "I'm just excited to be a part of the rotation, anywhere. I don't care if I was the No. 5 guy, as long as I'm out there pitching."
Strasburg, in his typical unassuming manner, tried to downplay the significance of this morning's announcement.
"It's a tremendous honor, but there's still a lot of work to be done," he said. "And it's just one game. Hopefully the games will be mattering a lot more at the end of the year for us."
For that to happen, the Nationals will need not only Strasburg to give them a chance to win every fifth day but the rest of this deep and talented rotation as well. This team will go as far as its starters take it.
Fortunately, the group as a whole has pitched quite well this spring. The ERAs are a bit misleading, but every one of them has looked dominant at times. None of this matters, of course, until the bell rings and they start playing games that actually count.
But with two weeks to go, the Nationals have every reason to believe their pitching staff can compete with anyone in baseball and make this team a contender right now.
It all starts April 5, with the game's most dynamic young pitcher toeing the rubber at Wrigley Field.
"It's awesome," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "Let him go set the precedent, and then let the other guys follow suit."