Nationals' Scherzer likely to start Opening Day, unlikely to throw no-no

VIERA, Fla. -- Even though it’s only the first day of official workouts, Max Scherzer is already on target to be the Opening Day starter for the Washington Nationals.

In his office on Friday, Dusty Baker had trouble containing his laughter when asked the uber-early question of whether Scherzer would toe the rubber on April 4th when the Nats open up on the road against Atlanta.

“Man, how you gonna ask me a question like that?” said the new Washington skipper, chuckling and flashing that wide smile of his. But after taking a moment to reflect, he hinted that if things go according to plan, Washington’s $210 million man should get the nod. “We haven’t really discussed it, but it lines up where Scherzer is pitching first.”

Regardless of who takes the hill that opening game, one thing is for sure: Scherzer won’t be throwing another no-no.

“I’m not throwing a no-hitter Opening Day,” said the veteran righty, who last year became just the sixth player in major league history to toss two no-hitters in the same season. The second one, a 17-strikeout, no-walk gem against the Mets, came in Scherzer’s final start of 2015.

But don’t expect him to be first pitcher ever to spin wrap-around no-no’s from one season to the next.

“It’s not gonna happen,” Scherzer said. “You’re on such a pitch count those first three starts. You don’t want to go deep. You don’t want to push it.”

In the six weeks between now and then, Scherzer said he’s looking forward to honing the cutter he started using last season and working on being more consistent than a year ago, when he endured a bumpy nine-start stretch after the All-Star break, during which he went 3-6 and allowed 14 home runs in 52 innings.

“That left a sour taste in my mouth,” Scherzer said. “It showed that I need to get better. That’s what I look forward to doing in the spring.”

He’s also looking forward to mentoring a promising posse of young hurlers that includes Joe Ross, A.J. Cole and Lucas Giolito, the former first round pick whom Baseball America recently ranked as the organization’s top prospect and the No. 5 prospect in all of baseball.

“I’m the old guy on the staff now,” said Scherzer, who at 31 is the most senior member of Washington’s projected starting five.

Scherzer recalled coming up in the Diamondbacks’ system, picking the baseball brains of guys like Randy Johnson, Dan Haren, and Brandon Webb. Nearly a decade later, he’s the one whose brain is getting picked.

“I’m in a different role now. I’ve got to help the young bucks out.”

Chief among those young bucks is Giolito, who’s ready to gobble up whatever nuggets of wisdom Scherzer sprinkles in his direction.

“I’m going to try to be a little bit of a fly on the wall and just keep my ears open,” said the gargantuan 21-year old righty, seemingly oblivious that to the fact that when you’re 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, being inconspicuous doesn’t come easy. “I don’t want to annoy anybody. It’s my first big league camp. These guys are veterans. I’ll ask questions here and there, but I’m just going to try and watch it.”

Depending on how quick of a study he proves to be, Giolito -- who has posted a 3.6 K/BB ratio since being taken with the 16th overall pick in 2012 but has only worked 47 innings above single-A ball -- could find himself in the majors as early as this season. At least that’s the plan.

“My goal [for 2016] is definitely reaching the big leagues,” said Giolito. “Baseball is a business, but at the same time, I feel like if I continue to progress the way I want to I’ll have a good shot.”