NEW YORK -- Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson sees similarities between his current team and the squads he managed in New York leading up to the Mets' 1986 world championship.
And, yes, phenom Stephen Strasburg plays the role of a young Dwight Gooden in that comparison.
Strasburg makes his second 2012 start Wednesday afternon in a stellar matchup with Mets ace Johan Santana at Citi Field.
"We've got a pretty good young pitcher that reminds me of Dwight Gooden in Steven Strasburg," Johnson said. "We've got some young players, a la [Darryl] Strawberry, [Lenny] Dykstra, [Wally] Backman. And we were always last place. And then we had a pretty good year, came in second, won 95 games. Then we got a little better and won 98. And then won 108. Basically, the young guys grew up. And I feel the same way here. If the young guys mature and play to their potential, it could be a similar scenario."
Both Strasburg and Santana missed more than a year in the majors recently due to injury -- Strasburg because of Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, Santana because of surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder.
"Injuries are not easy, especially when they happen to a pitcher, and to a young guy," Santana said. "It's a lot you have to go through. And he put everything behind him and he's back, and I'm very happy for him. At the same time, tomorrow is going to be a challenge."
Strasburg will pitch in New York for the first time. He faced the Mets in consecutive spring-training starts last month, as well as on July 3, 2010, at Nationals Park. In that regular-season start two years ago, Strasburg's pitch count had reached 96 after five innings and he was pulled, having allowed two runs.
"It's always good for baseball when you have a matchup like that," Santana said. "I'm still working my way back. But it's definitely good. Every time you have a challenge like that, it's going to be a good one, and I'm looking forward to it."
Mets manager Terry Collins said Santana likely will be capped at 95 pitches. Santana is pitching on an extra day of rest, as will be the case in at least six of his first seven starts because of the way team off days fall.
Collins said the extra rest won't mean deeper pitch counts for Santana -- just more of an opportunity for his body to bounce back after outings.
The extra day of rest before Wednesday's start allowed Santana to take a complete day off from working out. Santana tossed five scoreless innings against the Atlanta Braves last Thursday in his first major league game since Sept. 2, 2010. Santana threw 84 pitches.
"It was actually the first day off I took from the beginning of spring training," Santana said about Friday's team off day. "It worked out pretty good. ... I still have a lot of way to go. We're still working. But we're going in the right direction."
As for the Strasburg-Gooden comparison, Johnson doesn't make it lightly.
"He's legit," the former '86 Mets manager said.