Stephen Strasburg to start opener

Updated: March 21, 2012, 2:43 PM ET
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

Stephen Strasburg will be the Washington Nationals' Opening Day starter April 5 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, manager Davey Johnson announced Wednesday.

"I like to put my best foot forward from the get-go," Johnson said. "This isn't about Stephen Strasburg. It's about the Washington Nationals."

The start against the Cubs will be a novel experience for Strasburg in more ways than one. He has never pitched in Wrigley or even been to the city of Chicago.

Strasburg
Strasburg

"I think anybody wants to have the opportunity to pitch Opening Day," Strasburg said. "To be able to say I have that under my belt is awesome. It's a great feeling and I'm looking forward to it."

Strasburg is 0-3 with a 5.52 ERA this spring, but he's coming off his best performance in the Grapefruit League. In a 2-0 loss to the New York Mets, he allowed one run and two hits in five innings, throwing 54 of his 85 pitches for strikes.

Pitching coach Steve McCatty informed Strasburg that he had been named the starter for Opening Day, and Johnson shared the announcement with the media.

Johnson said Strasburg was overly "amped" early in spring training games, but focused less on velocity and used his entire repertoire against the Mets.

"He settled in last night and showed me what kind of pitcher he is," Johnson said. "He didn't overthrow. He had much better location. In a nutshell, he pitched."

Strasburg, the top pick in the 2009 amateur draft out of San Diego State, was a baseball sensation in 2010, striking out 92 in 68 innings in his first 12 starts. But he blew out his elbow and had to undergo Tommy John surgery in September 2010. He returned late last season and was 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA in five starts.

Johnson said that left-hander Gio Gonzalez, acquired from Oakland in the offseason, will start Washington's second game. He declined to reveal the rest of his pitching plans for the first week, but Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson are locks to make the Nationals' rotation.

Chien-Ming Wang is the front-runner for the fifth spot, but he's been bothered by a hamstring injury. If Wang is not ready to go, John Lannan will assume his spot in the rotation.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer