Max Scherzer to start Opening Day for Mets
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — With their decorated and expensive co-aces, Mets decision-makers arranged an honor for each: Max Scherzer will get the ball for Opening Day, on Thursday against the Marlins in Miami, and Justin Verlander will do so for the first game at Citi Field, also against the Marlins on April 6.
Manager Buck Showalter portrayed that choice as the culmination of small factors, with Scherzer getting the premier assignment for no particular reason.
“You could’ve done either one of them,” Showalter said. “You could pull it out of a hat. They’re both deserving of that.”
Deciding between Scherzer, 38, and Verlander, 40, for the first game was one of the fun little subplots of a mostly quiet Mets camp. The former Tigers teammates and rivals reunited — complete with the same record $43.33 million salary — for at least this season in Queens.
Scherzer appeared to be the guy early in the exhibition slate, when Showalter said the Mets already had it planned out and Scherzer appeared in the rotation order ahead of Verlander and Japanese rookie Kodai Senga. It became official Friday via an announcement from MLB.
Teams had been asked not to go public with their choices so MLB could make an announcement on behalf of all 30 clubs at once.
This will be Scherzer’s seventh Opening Day start. He did it six times for the Nationals.
“It’s a heck of a day to pitch on,” he said. “The atmosphere is crazy, every single venue that you’re in. It’s going to be a great day. It’s really fun to be out there and get the ball in that situation.”
He added: “At the end of the day, it’s just another start. You gotta go out there and compete against the other team. You just have a few more fans in the stands and a few more hoopla before the game. That’s it.”
Also, this will be the first time in six seasons as teammates — including five in Detroit — that Scherzer received the first-game nod over Verlander. Their time with the Tigers came during a stretch in which Verlander started seven consecutive Opening Days (and nine of 10).
Although they haven’t locked it in, the Mets’ season-opening rotation is lined up to be Scherzer, David Peterson or Tylor Megill, Verlander, Senga and Carlos Carrasco. That sets up Verlander for the home opener.
Among the early-season rotation minutiae that factored in, per Showalter: The Mets prefer not to have Scherzer and Verlander pitch on consecutive days (a strategy they tried with Scherzer and Jacob deGrom last year, thinking their deeper starts would help the bullpen stay fresh). And they pushed Senga to fourth so he could get an additional preseason start and have extra time for his right index finger (tendinitis) to be OK.
“I really didn’t want Senga’s first outing in New York to be in that [home opener] situation necessarily,” Showalter said. “Maybe two months from now I’ll think differently.”
Scherzer’s final tune-up — a “full dress rehearsal,” he called it — came Friday afternoon at Tropicana Field, where he held the Rays to two runs and four hits in six innings. He struck out 11 and walked one. He also stretched out to exactly 100 pitches, his annual right-before-the-season tradition.
That marked his first time working with catcher Omar Narvaez, the likely Opening Day backstop, since Feb. 26, which was just a two-inning cameo. Scherzer said Narvaez is “starting to see how I think and what I want to do in certain situations.”
Across four Grapefruit League starts, Scherzer had a 1.53 ERA and 25 strikeouts (to two walks) in 17 2⁄3 innings.
It’s almost go time.“You feel like you’re at the starting line of a marathon of the season,” Scherzer said of Opening Day. “Everybody is playing on the same day, you got the best pitching matchups across the league. The whole day is awesome.”