Scherzer gets Opening Day nod, to face deGrom

March 11th, 2019

JUPITER, Fla. -- “I’m going to go out on a limb,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said with a smile before he delivered news few could consider a surprise.

Max Scherzer will be Washington's Opening Day starter, the fourth time he has earned the nod in his five seasons in D.C. The announcement sets up a showdown between Scherzer and the defending National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom and the Mets on March 28 at Nationals Park.

After winning the NL Cy Young Award in back-to-back seasons in 2016-17, Scherzer finished in second in '18 to deGrom and his historic ERA. Along with a duel between the top two Cy Young Award vote-getters in the NL, American League winner Blake Snell of the Rays and runner-up Justin Verlander of the Astros will also square off on Opening Day. Matchups like this to start the season are rare, and it has happened twice in Major League history, according to the Rays.

On Opening Day 1979, reigning AL Cy Young winner Ron Guidry of the Yankees faced off against runner-up Mike Caldwell of the Brewers at Yankee Stadium. And in Los Angeles that same day, the Padres sent reigning NL Cy Young winner Gaylord Perry to the mound against the Dodgers’ Burt Hooton, who finished second.

Since he joined Washington in 2015, Scherzer has taken the bump on Opening Day every year except 2017, when a stress fracture on the knuckle of his right ring finger pushed him back to the season’s fourth game. It’s a testament to how truly dominant Scherzer remains even at 34 years old that there was never really a question, barring injury, whether he would earn the nod.

The Nationals just signed the top free-agent starting pitcher in Patrick Corbin and also have Stephen Strasburg at the top of their rotation, two pitchers many teams would dream of anchoring their rotation. But Scherzer is still perhaps the most dominant pitcher in baseball. Since 2013, he has finished in the top five in the voting for the Cy Young Award each year, winning the award three times. A year ago, he went 18-7 with a 2.53 ERA and led the Majors with 220 2/3 innings pitched and 300 strikeouts.

Martinez made the announcement following Scherzer’s latest Grapefruit League tuneup in Monday’s 3-2 loss to the Cardinals in which Scherzer threw 75 pitches in 5 1/3 innings, surrendering three earned runs on six hits with two strikeouts and a walk. He pitched better than his line gives him credit for, but he fell victim to some shaky defense behind him.

Scherzer was still pleased that he was able to extend his outing to 75 pitches, taking the mound to start the sixth inning despite finishing the fifth already at 68 pitches.

“The minute he comes off the mound, he tells me right away, ‘Look, I’m going to let it air out here,’” Martinez recalled. “I said, ‘All right, you have seven pitches. I expect two outs.’”

Scherzer added: “Davey wanted me to go back out. I wanted to go back out and just push that pitch count all the way through. That’s an important number to hit. … The fact that as I’m fatiguing I’m still strong at the end of the outing, and the velo’s there at the end of the outing, that’s the important part you take away from an outing like today.”