Washington Nationals giving the ball to Max Scherzer on Opening Day

Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg? Dave Martinez settled the issue on Monday.

Dave Martinez, manager of the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals, has a dilemma any manager would love to have heading into the 2020 season.

The Nationals have two starting pitchers, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, with the pedigree to start Opening Day when the club begins its title defense at home against the New York Yankees. And on Monday, Martinez ended the suspense over who would get the ball next Thursday.

Scherzer, the three-time Cy Young Award winner, will start over Strasburg, Martinez announced on MLB Network. Scherzer has been the Nationals’ Opening Day starter for the past two years and is 1-2 with a 1.27 ERA in four career Opening Day starts. Last year, he struck out 12 New York Mets and gave up just two runs on two hits over seven innings, though the Nationals were shut out by Jacob deGrom 2-0.

The decision to start Scherzer on July 23 isn’t a slight toward Strasburg. Strasburg been an integral part of the club since being drafted first overall in 2009. He’s the Nationals franchise leader in games started, wins and strikeouts since moving to the nation’s capital from Montreal in 2005. In last year’s World Series, as the Nationals headed back to Houston trailing 3-2, they turned to Strasburg to extend their season. He responded by pitching into the ninth inning and not surrendering a run after the first as the Nationals forced a seventh game on their way to winning the franchise’s first world championship.

The Nationals rewarded Strasburg’s loyalty by giving him a seven-year, $245 million contract to stay in Washington last December. Since 2012, Strasburg is eighth in the Majors in wins and fifth in strikeouts per nine innings among pitchers with at least 100 starts.

Scherzer, though, leads both categories. In five seasons since joining the Nationals as a free agent, Scherzer has thrown two no-hitters, had a 20-strikeout game, and took home two Cy Young Awards. He’s 79-39 with a 2.74 ERA since 2015, behind only Clayton Kershaw and deGrom.

It was a difficult decision for Martinez to choose between them, but he’s settled on Scherzer. “I truly believe this. They’re both unbelievable. They’re both No. 1s. But Max, to me, is the guy. If he’s healthy, he’ll get the ball game one and we’ll go from there,” he said on MLB Network.

“I love both those guys. They’re both deserving of game one. But Max is a three-time Cy Young winner. They’re both really competitive. I’m just glad I have them both. It’s nice to go one, two with those guys.”

Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez will follow Scherzer and Strasburg in the rotation, with the fifth spot still open to competition during summer camp. Joe Ross, a leading contender for that spot, opted not to play this season.

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