Stras­burg anointed ace with Open­ing Day nod

The Washington Times Daily - - Weather - BY AMANDA COMAK

VIERA, FLA. | At home this win­ter in Michi­gan, Washington Na­tion­als pitch­ing coach Steve Mccatty watched as his staff grew and im­proved. The Na­tion­als added Gio Gon­za­lez and Ed­win Jack­son, and in­fused the No. 5 spot in the ro­ta­tion with com­pe­ti­tion among three can­di­dates who once ap­peared locks.

“As good” a staff, Na­tion­als man­ager Davey John­son said, “as any I’ve had, in my es­ti­ma­tion.”

But even as Na­tion­als gen­eral man­ager Mike Rizzo con­tin­ued to stock the cup­boards with start­ing pitch­ers, there was one im­age Mccatty kept in his mind through­out the off­sea­son: the im­age of Stephen Stras­burg, just weeks past the one-year an­niver­sary of Tommy John surgery on his right el­bow, one-hit­ting the Florida Mar­lins on the final day of the sea­son. The im­age of Stras­burg stand­ing on the mound be­ing him­self — and strik­ing out 10 Mar­lins in six mas­ter­ful in­nings. It was the im­age of an ace. Gon­za­lez and Jack­son have been Al­lS­tars. Right-han­der Jor­dan Zim­mer­mann was the Na­tion­als’ best pitcher in 2011. But in truth, there was only one choice for the Na­tion­als when it came to nam­ing a starter for the April 5 opener against the Chicago Cubs. It was the man they’ve seen as their No. 1 since

June 9, 2009, the day they drafted him in that slot.

“The guy’s a No. 1 starter,” Mccatty said. “All the guys are do­ing great, but Stephen is who he is. I’m not knock­ing any­body else, but here’s a guy that is pretty spe­cial. You send your No. 1 guy out there [on Open­ing Day]. In my opin­ion, he’s it.”

In his brief but some­times bril­liant ca­reer, Stras­burg has been a lot of things. But un­til Wed­nes­day morn­ing, he was never of­fi­cially the Na­tion­als’ No. 1 pitcher. And he’s never been an Open­ing Day starter.

“It’s a tremen­dous honor,” Stras­burg said Wed­nes­day, not­ing this will be his first trip to both Chicago and Wrigley Field. “I think any­body wants to have the op­por­tu­nity to pitch Open­ing Day. It’s awe­some. It’s a great feel­ing and I’m look­ing for­ward to it.”

The road that has taken him from No. 1 draft pick to No. 1 starter surely wasn’t as smooth as he once en­vi­sioned. Los­ing a full year af­ter el­bow surgery will help to serve as quite a speed bump. While Stras­burg may not have been pitch­ing in the Na­tion­als’ ro­ta­tion for much of 2011, he has worked hard to get to this point.

John­son had been ru­mi­nat­ing about the choice since the Win­ter Meet­ings, as the Na­tion­als set out the path they wanted Stras­burg on in his first full year back af­ter surgery. He’ll be on an in­nings limit, so they could have opted to play around with his place­ment in the ro­ta­tion to stretch him as far as they could. They chose not to.

“He’s still go­ing to pitch where I think he should pitch,” John­son said. “I’ve heard all these dif­fer­ent the­o­ries from the ex­perts but I have a lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence in that too and ev­ery­thing in my base­ball knowl­edge is to pitch him where he be­longs. And if you’ve got to shut him down, shut him down. End of story.

“I like to put my best foot for­ward from the getgo, and it’s not about Stephen Stras­burg. It’s about the Washington Na­tion­als. I’m go­ing to put our best foot for­ward each and ev­ery step of the way.”.

AN­DREW HARNIK/THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Na­tion­als on Wed­nes­day named Stephen Stras­burg their Open­ing Day starter. “It’s awe­some,” Stras­burg said. “It’s a great feel­ing and I’m look­ing for­ward to it.”

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