- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Stephen Strasburg will start Opening Day for the Washington Nationals for the second consecutive season, manager Davey Johnson confirmed Wednesday morning.

The announcement was a mere formality. Strasburg is the ace of a Nationals staff filled with talent, but Johnson was reluctant to make it official with still more than two weeks to go before Opening Day because of how well-known it already seemed to be.

“I think you guys pretty much know,” Johnson said on a quiet morning at the Nationals’ complex, with half of the players traveling to Kissimmee to play the Houston Astros while most of the regulars remained in Viera to face the New York Mets. The Nationals won both games, 8-5 over the Mets and 9-7 over the Astros.

“I guess you want me to say it,” he said. “[Strasburg’s] going to be my Opening Day starter. You [dragged] it out of me.”

When Strasburg was told about the Opening Day assignment last season, it was clear it was a special day for the right-hander. Pitching coach Steve McCatty delivered the news and, 18 months removed from Tommy John surgery at that point, Strasburg talked about how much it’d mean to him to get the year’s first start.

That assignment, of course, came with the caveat that all of Strasburg’s 2012 season carried: At some point it would be halted before its natural end. This year, he has no such limits and take the Opening Day start with the hope that his final one won’t come until deep into October.

“He’s just got great stuff, he’s very dedicated and works very hard,” Johnson said of Strasburg. “That’s a great honor. I’ve got a lot of great starters in my rotation. But I know this is going to be easier this year [for him without] the pitch limit.”

The rest of the rotation order was not announced, but it would be a surprise if Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann didn’t fall in the second and third slots, as they did in 2012, with Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren following behind.

Zimmermann bounces back

Putting what Johnson called a normal case of spring training dead-arm decidedly in the past, Zimmermann was back to his usual self on Wednesday in 4 2/3 innings against the Mets.

“He threw a lot of pitches in the zone and that’s the Jordan I know,” catcher Wilson Ramos said. “Last time when I caught him he threw a lot of pitches up in the zone. This time, a lot of pitches down in the zone.”

After a 30-pitch first inning, Zimmermann reeled it in and was able to get his pitch count to more than 80 (82 pitches, 54 strikes) for the first time this spring. Zimmermann allowed one earned run, walked two and struck out six.

Zimmermann, who’s pleased with the progress he’s made with his change-up, said after the game that he didn’t throw as many today as he would have liked.

“It definitely felt good to stretch it out,” he said. “I like to get that last hitter and a couple close calls, but I’ll take 4 2/3, I guess.”

Around the horn

Nate Karns, who has been dealing with upper leg tightness, was cleared and will throw in the bullpen Thursday. … Pitcher Christian Garcia will see a hand/wrist specialist Sunday in the D.C. area with the hope of getting clearance to return to baseball activities. … Bryce Harper, who is now batting .444 this spring, hit his third home run Wednesday. … Ramos will start Thursday’s game, catching back-to-back games for the first time since tearing his ACL and meniscus last year.

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