Marlins-Nationals Preview

Stephen Strasburg is ready for his first big league season
without restrictions.

Ready to go from season’s start to finish.

Ready to throw as many pitches as it takes and to stay on the
mound as long as possible, including into the eighth and ninth
inning, something he’s never done in the majors.

It all begins Monday, when All-Star ace Strasburg starts the
season opener for the defending NL East champion Washington
Nationals against a Miami Marlins club that traded away most of its
best players, cut its payroll by more than half, starts with seven
players on the disabled list and has a rookie manager in Mike
Redmond.

”It’s going to be a good test for me, obviously,” Strasburg
said about the chance to see what his prized – and surgically
repaired – right arm can do without any limits imposed by the
Nationals.

”I haven’t gone over seven innings yet in my career,” the
24-year-old Strasburg added. ”I know in the past, when I’ve been
allowed to do that, I feel like my game’s gotten better later on in
the game. The hitters change their approach later in the game. It’s
going to be interesting to see how the game changes in the later
innings when you’re out there, because I still haven’t experienced
that yet.”

Not since college, anyway.

In 13 starts at San Diego State that lasted more than seven
innings, Strasburg was 13-0 with a 0.74 ERA, according to STATS
LLC.

He’s been allowed to go as long as seven innings – and never
more than that – a total of seven times with the Nationals, and
owns a 4-0 record and 1.29 ERA in those games. The righty never
pitched more than seven innings in the minors.

”Last year, I was a little quicker with the hook, because I was
trying to add some games at the end. I don’t feel under the gun to
do that,” said Davey Johnson, the NL Manager of the Year who says
he’ll retire after 2013. ”I’ll go with what I think I can get out
of him and not overburden him.”

Overall, Strasburg is 21-10 with a 2.94 ERA in 45 career starts
in the majors since his electrifying debut. He went 15-6 with a
3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts over 159 1-3 innings last season before
being shut down because the Nationals decided he’d thrown enough
for a guy who had reconstructive elbow surgery in September
2010.

”They’re just going to let him be now. He’s going to go out
there and compete, have some fun, go out to the max, do it the way
he’s supposed to do it,” said teammate Gio Gonzalez, who finished
third in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2012. ”Last year, on an
innings and pitch limit, stuff like that, he still managed to get
us 15 wins. So if you give that guy another month or so, or even
more in the postseason, he’s going to definitely get us where we
need to be and hopefully keep us at the top of the division.”

While the Nationals won a majors-high 98 games last season and
are touted by many – including their own manager, Davey Johnson –
as a World Series favorite, the Marlins are widely expected to
repeat last year’s last-place finish in the NL East.

Redmond, a 41-year-old former backup catcher, replaces the fired
Ozzie Guillen in the dugout and needs to figure out how to coax
wins out of a roster featuring 23-year-old slugger Giancarlo
Stanton and little else in the way of proven players.

Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and Hanley
Ramirez all are gone.

As for facing Strasburg to open things, Redmond said: ”He gets
a lot of press and has had a tremendous career so far, but I know
the guys are excited and they’ll be ready for him.”

Redmond added: ”We’ve been counting down the days. Obviously,
it’s a big challenge, but I think we’ll be ready for it and
hopefully we’ll go out there and step up.”

Notes: Strasburg (2009) and LF Bryce Harper (2010) will be only
the second pair of No. 1 overall draft picks in baseball’s June
amateur draft to start opening day together for the team that chose
them, STATS LLC said. The other such duo? Alex Rodriguez and Ken
Griffey Jr. with the Seattle Mariners. … Top Marlins pitching
prospect Jose Fernandez surprisingly was added to the team’s roster
Sunday. He is expected to make his major league debut April 7 by
starting at the New York Mets. RHPs Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson
Alvarez were put on the 15-day DL. … RHP Ricky Nolasco will start
against Strasburg on Monday. … After Tuesday’s scheduled day off,
the starting pitchers for Game 2 on Wednesday: Washington LHP
Gonzalez against Miami RHP Kevin Slowey. Game 3 on Thursday:
Washington RHP Jordan Zimmermann against Miami LHP Wade
LeBlanc.

AP freelance writers Charles McCarthy and Chuck King in Jupiter,
Fla., contributed to this report.

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