VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg had his share of ups and downs during Spring Training, but what happened during the exhibition season will be forgotten Thursday afternoon when he is expected to be the team's Opening Day starter against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
"Ready to get out of Florida, that's for sure," Strasburg acknowledged.
Asked if Spring Training was too long, Strasburg said, "Yeah, obviously, when you go out there, you start to feel it a little bit. You want the season to start. That's why it's six weeks long. So you have to go out there and keep working in your stuff and take it into the season. I'm confident and ready to go. Even then, I'm still going to be building up and getting to the point where everything is working on all cylinders."
Nationals manager Davey Johnson said he had Strasburg on his mind as his first-game pitcher since the Winter Meetings in December. Johnson said the weather or innings limits did not play a role in deciding when Strasburg would start his season.
W: Clippard (1-0) L: Marmol (0-1)
SV: Lidge (1)
Strasburg missed most of last season because he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. After he returned in September, he appeared in five games and had a 1.50 ERA. He is expected to pitch 160 innings this season. Strasburg's routines will be similar to what Jordan Zimmermann went through last year.
"I've heard these different theories from the experts, but I have a little experience in that area, too," Johnson said. "Everything in my baseball mind says to pitch him where he wants to pitch. You got to shut him down, you shut him down. End of story.
"Some college professor may dream up that if you are a fifth starter and you missed two or three starts, you can actually pitch the clincher for the playoffs. They have it all figured out. I like to put my best foot forward from the get-go, and it's not about Stephen Strasburg. It's about the Washington Nationals. So I'm going to put my best foot forward each and every step of the way."
Talking to Strasburg, it's obvious that he plans to cherish the moment of being the Opening Day starter. It's more than just pitching in the first game. His family will be at the game. Strasburg said it will be the first time his mother will be at one of his games since he made his Major League debut against the Pirates at Nationals Park on June 8, 2010.
|Projected Opening Day lineup|
Strasburg also has never been to Chicago and plans to go to some of the best restaurants in the city. More importantly, Strasburg will break camp with the club for the first time in his short career and he is ready to become the ace of the staff.
"It's nice to be breaking with the club and it's going to be fun," Strasburg said. "It's good for my family to come out and see me pitch again. The last time they came and saw me was for my debut. So it has been a long time and I'm excited for the experience. It's something that doesn't happen to everybody. Obviously, it starts Opening Day in Wrigley. It's going to be fun, no matter what."
You will not get any arguments from Strasburg's teammates that he should be the Opening Day starter.
Left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who will pitch the second game two days later, said Strasburg starting the first game is a great way to start the regular season.
"Strasburg is leading the pack. He is the right man for the job, right there," Gonzalez said. "I'm just excited to be a part of the rotation. I don't care if I [am] the No. 5 guy as long as I'm out there pitching. ... I think Stras is definitely the man to set this rotation in the right direction. From there on, we are going to help him and follow him."
Left-hander John Lannan was Washington's Opening Day starter in 2009 and '10, but he doesn't plan to give Strasburg any advice on how to handle the special occasion.
"I don't give Stras any advice," Lannan said. "He is in a spot where I've never been [where there is a lot of hype]. He'll handle it. He knows how to handle those situations."
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.