Strasburg, Nats look for fast start against Mets

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 30, 2014 at 8:31 pm •  Published: March 30, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — Last season started so perfectly for the Washington Nationals.

Stephen Strasburg went seven innings and Bryce Harper homered twice in a 2-0 win over Miami. First step on their march back to October baseball — or so it seemed.

Before long, the Nationals hit the skids and missed the playoffs at 86-76 after topping the majors with 98 wins in 2012. Now, they're a popular World Series pick again.

"I think a lot of it has to do with how much talent is on our roster and how good we look on paper," Strasburg said. "That's not going to carry you the whole way."

The hard-throwing Strasburg — with a new pitch in his arsenal — will try to get Washington off to another strong start Monday against Dillon Gee and the New York Mets at Citi Field.

Rookie manager Matt Williams has plenty to be excited about: Harper looks healthy following knee surgery, the pitching staff is stocked and the Nationals are widely favored to win the NL East after defending champion Atlanta lost two important arms to season-ending injuries this spring.

"Last year was a fantastic season for the Braves. They started off well," Williams said. "We certainly want to start well this year, too."

While not nearly as much is expected of the Mets, coming off five straight losing seasons and their second consecutive 74-88 finish, they often play their best ball on opening day.

New York is 34-18 (.654) in season openers, the top mark in the majors, despite losing its first eight. And the Mets have won 20 of their past 22 season openers at home.

Gee was not their first choice to pitch, but durability makes a difference. All-Star ace Matt Harvey is recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery and left-hander Jonathon Niese was slowed by back, triceps and elbow trouble in what he called "the spring training from hell."

Niese begins the season on the disabled list but is penciled in to start Sunday against Cincinnati.

"It's kind of by default," Gee conceded. "I'm very thankful for that opportunity, but really I've just got to take it like any other game. It's just one of 30-something starts I hope to get this year, but it's definitely a big honor."

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