Baker plans to split up two hard-throwing right-handers
By Cash Kruth
VIERA, Fla. -- Dusty Baker once again hinted, but didn't confirm, Monday morning that Max Scherzer would be the Nationals' Opening Day starter.
"I haven't talked to [pitching coach Mike Maddux] about it, I just assumed Scherzer," said Baker, who's in his first year as manager of the Nats. "He's the man from the get-go. That's a pretty good option right there."
If Scherzer does get the nod on April 4 against the Braves, it will be his second straight Opening Day start for Washington. He lost last year's opener to the Mets.
Although Baker didn't officially unveil his rotation, he talked about the likelihood of slotting left-hander Gio Gonzalez between Scherzer and righty Stephen Strasburg. Right-handers Joe Ross and Tanner Roark will round out the rotation in a yet-to-be-determined order.
In that scenario, Strasburg would start the home opener against the Marlins on April 7.
Baker said breaking up Scherzer and Strasburg has nothing to do with both being hard-throwing righties -- "I'd rather have five of them back to back to back," he quipped -- and more about saving the bullpen.
Scherzer has worked more than 187 innings in six straight seasons, passing 200 in the past three. Strasburg dealt with injuries last season, but he worked at least six innings in all but one of his final 10 starts.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, recorded an out in the seventh inning in just nine of his 31 starts last season.
"You want to put Gio in between there because he's had a little bit of inconsistency as far as going deep into games," Baker said. "So until that happens, you'd like to follow an innings guy behind a guy that's still trying to get it together."
Breaking up a club's two workhorses is advantageous for the bullpen overall, but especially during long stretches with consecutive games.
"You get upside down, you're in a bad way," said Baker of a tired bullpen, "because that's a losing streak."
• Ross said Monday he was "barely sore at all" one day after leaving his start early with a right heel contusion after getting hit by a comebacker. Ross said he expects to make his next start and be ready for the regular season despite throwing only one inning instead of his scheduled five.
• The Nationals announced after Monday's 5-3 win that right-handers Burke Badenhop, Michael Brady and Erik Davis were reassigned to Minor League camp. Washington now has 41 players in its Major League camp, including 13 non-roster invitees.
• Closer Jonathan Papelbon was scheduled to pitch Monday but was held out due to sickness, Baker said.
Cash Kruth is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @cashkruth. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.