JUPITER, Fla. -- Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo searched all throughout the team's complex for right-hander Max Scherzer about a week ago. He checked the practice fields, the clubhouse, the weight room and the training table. He could not find his ace and reigning back-to-back National League Cy Young Award winner. When Rizzo eventually located Scherzer, he found him alone in the team's video room, studying footage of Reds first baseman Joey Votto.
On Monday, the Nationals officially named Scherzer their Opening Day starter for the season opener against Votto and the Reds on March 29 in Cincinnati. It will be Scherzer's third Opening Day start for Washington, and it was one of the easiest choices first-year manager Dave Martinez has had to make.
"The day I got the job," Martinez said laughing, when asked when he made the decision.
Martinez also outlined the rest of his rotation after Scherzer: Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to start the second game, with Giovany Gonzalez and Tanner Roark to follow.
"It's always an honor," Scherzer said. "To start Opening Day, it's a great day of baseball. Everybody's got those jitters about what's going to happen in the upcoming year. You get to toe the mound, you're the first one out there. It's an exciting time. It doesn't get old. You always have a smile on your face any time you get that nod. Obviously, I look forward to pitching in Cincinnati."
Scherzer finished last season 16-6 with a career-low 2.51 ERA and an NL-leading 268 strikeouts en route to winning his third career Cy Young Award. So it was an easy decision for Martinez -- not only because of how dominant Scherzer has continued to pitch -- but because he is completely healthy.
Scherzer was not on the mound for Opening Day in 2017 after dealing with a stress fracture on his right ring finger last spring. He spent the majority of his Grapefruit League outings throwing fastballs with a modified three-finger grip. Then, a right hamstring injury prevented him from pitching in the NL Division Series until Game 3.
This spring, Scherzer has not had to deal with any of those nagging injuries.
The 33-year-old right-hander arrived at camp firing 60-pitch bullpen sessions on the first day. Scherzer had carved up the Grapefruit League to a 1.29 ERA entering Monday afternoon's 9-1 loss to the Marlins at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, before he surrendered six runs and three homers in five innings.
But Scherzer said he actually enjoyed getting hit around a bit because he had not pitched from the stretch much this spring. It allowed him to work on battling through a tough outing, something he knows he will have to do during the season.
And there is the key for Scherzer. No matter the context, he is always trying to work on a way to get better, whether it comes during a bullpen session or a Spring Training tune-up. Or even when he is hiding out in the video room looking for an advantage.