Nonchalantly, Washington manager Dave Martinez made official on Monday what most already assumed — ace Max Scherzer will be the first to get the ball for the Nationals.
“I’m going to go out on a limb today and tell you that Max will be our opening day starter. How’s that?” Martinez said.
That sets up a marquee matchup March 28 at Nationals Park: Scherzer vs. Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets.
Between them, Scherzer and deGrom own four Cy Young awards, including the three most recent in the National League. Last year, the duo finished 1-2 in the voting, with deGrom claiming his first trophy.
Martinez made the announcement after Scherzer surrendered three runs on six hits and a walk while striking out two in 6 1/3 innings against St. Louis. Scherzer advanced his pitch total to 75, facing 23 batters.
The Nationals eschewed the designated hitter on Monday, allowing the 34-year-old Scherzer to bat for the second time this spring. This time, it nearly cost the Nationals dearly.
In the fifth inning, Jack Flaherty’s 3-2 inside fastball hit the nob of Scherzer’s bat and breezed along the fingers of his right hand. One pitch earlier, Scherzer glared at Flaherty following a high-and-tight fastball.
“I can understand that,” St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said.
Scherzer ultimately struck out, part of an 0-for-2 afternoon, ending the inning.
He emerged to pitch the bottom of the fifth and started the sixth before being removed after reaching his desired pitch count.
Scherzer posted an 18-7 record and a 2.53 ERA last season, striking out 300 in 220 2/3 innings. DeGrom’s 1.70 ERA made him the runaway choice for the Cy Young.