Nats’ Strasburg, Marlins’ Volquez face off in opener
WASHINGTON — Stephen Strasburg, 28, is in his eighth year as a professional baseball player, so it may seem odd that he is making a significant change going into this season.
A two-time All-Star, Strasburg will pitch out of the stretch position this year even when no runners are on base.
He will make the start on Monday against the Miami Marlins and fellow right-hander Edinson Volquez on Opening Day at Nationals Park.
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Strasburg, the Nationals’ Opening Day starter from 2012 through 2014, pitched out of the stretch during spring training after he made the decision before heading to Florida.
“I think I have gotten pretty confident with it,” said Strasburg, sitting in a conference room at Nationals Park on Friday. “It is on ongoing process.”
Strasburg said he made the change in order to help him go longer in the games and hopefully be more durable. Is he committed to pitching out of the stretch all year?
“I will make that decision when I have to,” the California native said.
The right-hander won 15 of his first 16 decisions last season and was 15-4 with a 3.60 ERA in 24 starts. He went 147 2/3 innings and gave up 119 hits with 183 strikeouts and 44 walks after he signed a seven-year contract extension in May.
But Strasburg, the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, did not pitch after Sept. 7 due to a strained flexor mass. He now appears to be healthy and will be opposed Monday by Volquez, who was acquired from the Kansas City Royals after last season.
“New guy on a new team,” Volquez said in Florida. “It’s a great opportunity for me to pitch the first game for the Marlins. I’ve been here before. It’s nothing new for me. I will do my best to win the first game.”
The Marlins were 79-82 last season and finished third in the National League East, 15 1/2 games back of the first-place Nationals. Washington lost in the playoffs to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“It really could’ve been a number of guys,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly told reporters of his Opening Day starter. “We feel like (Volquez is) the right guy. He pitches with big intensity. An Opening Day crowd I feel like will be good for him.”
Strasburg is 69-41 in 156 starts with a 3.17 ERA and he became the third starting pitcher in the National League to begin a season 13-0 in 2016.
He has a 12-7 career record with a 3.51 ERA against the Marlins in 25 starts.
The spot taken by Volquez had been reserved for right-hander Jose Fernandez before his death last September in a boating accident in Florida. The first road game the Marlins played after the death of Fernandez was in Washington at the end of last season.
Max Scherzer started Opening Day the past two seasons in Washington, but he dealt with a finger problem during spring training. He is on track to face the Marlins on Thursday, though.
“I am just glad they are both healthy,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said of Strasburg and Scherzer.
Last season Volquez, 33, was 10-11 with a 5.37 ERA in 34 starts with the Kansas City Royals. He allowed 217 hits in 189 1/3 innings and fanned 139 with 76 walks. In his career against the Nationals, Volquez is 2-3 with a 4.24 ERA in seven starts.
The Nationals’ closer will be Blake Treinen, who made his big league debut in 2014 and has one career save.
“It is hard to elevate that sinker,” Baker said. “He has a change-up and he has a slider, too.”
Other candidates for the closer spot were Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover.
“It was a tough decision,” Baker said.
The Nationals may be without starting third baseman Anthony Rendon. He did not play in a spring training game since March 27 due to a calf problem.
Baker did not promise that Rendon will be ready for Opening Day, though Rendon may not have to go on the disabled list.