After a season-starting sweep, Nationals can look forward to opening at home

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NEW YORK – After seven endless weeks of spring training in Viera, Fla. and a successful series on the road to open the 2014 season, the Nationals finally make their debut in front of the home fans on Friday afternoon.

Washington manager Matt Williams tried his best to dampen the excitement before his team’s game against the New York Mets on Thursday afternoon at Citi Field. No reason to look ahead, after all.

“I hesitate to get ahead of myself. We’ve got a big game today,” Williams said. “We’ll start thinking about that game tomorrow on the way home – regardless win or lose today. But today’s game is most important for us.”

And so it was a happy flight back to the District following an 8-2 victory over the Mets to complete a series sweep. Ryan Zimmerman went 4-5 at the plate, tying his career high for hits, and homered, Denard Span and Jayson Werth added RBI singles in the fifth inning and Danny Espinosa doubled twice.

The Nats begin the season 3-0 for the second year in a row.

Now Williams and his players can let themselves look forward to the pomp and circumstance of a home opener in the District with a three-game series against the rival Atlanta Braves this weekend.

“It’s always fun to have home openers. Openers are fun,” Zimmerman said. “Opening on the road and then coming home kind of gives you a little buffer. Still, nothing compares to the home opener.

About the only unexpected development is the starting pitcher on the mound at Nationals Parks on Friday. It was supposed to be Tanner Roark, who made the team when Doug Fister went on the 15-day disabled list to begin the season with a strained lat muscle.

But Roark lost that honor when he was pressed into emergency duty on Thursday against New York. Scheduled starter Jordan Zimmermann took ill the night before and Roark received an early-morning phone call that he’d be the replacement.

“I just go with the flow,” Roark said. “Whatever they tell me to do, that’s what I’m here for. If they want me to pitch whenever, I’ll pitch then. It’s basically up to them. I just get the ball and go.”

He did well enough considering the short notice. Roark  pitched six innings, shaking off a rough first when the Mets scored twice. Curtis Granderson doubled home one run and Juan Lagares had a sacrifice fly.

But after that inning, Roark allowed just three more hits and a pair of walks. He retired 12 of the last 16 batters he faced, stranding two runners at second base. New York managed six hits against him and three walks, but couldn’t push home more than those two runs.

That more than made up for the fact that Roark’s parents and in-laws, heading to Washington on Thursday to watch him pitch the home opener, won’t get to do that now. Roark said his parents found out on their drive from Wilmington, Ill. Roark’s mother texted him from somewhere in Ohio after learning the news: “What happened?”

Now the question: Who starts the home opener? Zimmermann was sent home early to rest and recover after taking ill. If he can’t go, the options are limited. Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez pitched earlier this week and are unavailable. Roark stepped in on Thursday. Fister is hurt and has yet to begin a throwing program yet.

Ross Detwiler, sent to the bullpen late in spring training, was a candidate to start. But he made his season debut in relief on Thursday against New York, pitching two innings. That leaves reliever Craig Stammen as the likely starter provided Zimmermann doesn’t recover in time.

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