Washington Nationals: Who Should Be Opening Day Starter?

Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

There are less than 20 days separating the Washington Nationals from Spring Training workouts and their season-opening series against the New York Mets. Needless to say, there are a lot of expectations surrounding the Nationals as they prepare for what could be the most important season in their still-young history. Washington went out this winter and addressed just about every need they were thought to have after their very disappointing 2013 season. Combine this with the sudden slew of injuries and questions in the Atlanta Braves‘ pitching staff, and things seem to be lined up in the Nationals’ favor as the season approaches. Something we will begin to see is teams around the league naming the all-important and slightly overrated Opening Day starter. For some teams, it is an obvious choice since most teams to have a rotation of solid starters with one who is head and shoulders above the rest. The issue with Washington — and that term is used loosely — is that the Nationals have four, perhaps even five starters capable of leading a rotation. Washington’s rotation is definitely stacked, with names like Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister all being capable major league starters, if not staff aces on just about 85-90 percent of other major league rotations. Suffice to say, the Opening Day starter is going to be a considerably tougher decision for Matt Williams than it will be for a lot of other managers in the league. So, with that in mind, who should be taking the ball on March 31 against the Mets? For the past two seasons, Strasburg has been the guy to take the ball on Opening Day, and Washington has won both of his starts even though he was given a combined four runs of support from his offense. Strasburg, for the most part, is seen as the unquestioned ace of the Nationals staff, and many see him as the key to the teams success. However, it would be pretty easy to argue against Strasburg and in favor of just about anyone else on the staff, namely Zimmermann, who is coming off of a 19-win season that saw him finish seventh in the Cy Young voting. On the mound, Zimmermann is stoic and completely unflappable, never eliciting any emotion or even another facial expression. All Zimmermann does is get on the mound and pound the strike zone, getting ahead of hitters quickly and putting them away just as fast. This is not to say Strasburg is easy to get to, or that Zimmermann is less of a competitor, as that is not the case. Unfortunately, one of Strasburg’s greatest strengths, his competitive drive and perfectionist attitude, is also one of his greatest weaknesses. Strasburg never wants to throw a ball, and sometimes that can get to him, and his body language on the mound is sometimes a bit too demonstrative, which is not usually a good thing. The Nationals are in a situation many teams wish they were in since they have four starters who can take the ball on Opening Day. All it comes down to is who seems the most primed for the start, and also perhaps whose ego needs to be stroked the most. It’s probably more likely than not that Strasburg will get the ball March 31 at Citi Field, though it would be hard to argue against Zimmermann.

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