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ThursdaySteven Strasburg vs Ryan Dempster

This will be Strasburg’s first Opening Day assignment. He missed most of last season because he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. He had a 1.50 ERA in five September games. He is expected to pitch no more than 160 innings this season. This will be Dempster’s fourth Opening Day start, second with the Cubs. He’s hoping for a better start. He had a 9.58 ERA in six April outings in 2011. He lost the season opener in 2011 to the Pirates, giving up six runs in 6 2/3 innings.

SaturdayGio Gonzalez vs Matt Garza

Gonzalez was 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA and had 197 strikeouts in 202 innings last season. His 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings ranked third among all qualifying southpaws. His 31 wins over the past two seasons ranks fourth among lefties. Garza begins his second season with the Cubs. The right-hander is coming off his third straight 10-win season. Garza hopes to get a little more support. He left with the lead but did not factor in the decision seven times last season.

SundayJordan Zimmerman vs Jeff Samardzija

Unlike last year, Zimmermann will not be on an innings limit and is expected to pitch at least 200. He has lost twice and allowed 12 earned runs in 18 innings against the Cubs over the past three seasons. Samardzija has wanted to be a starter and won a spot in the rotation with a strong spring. The former Notre Dame wide receiver was exclusively a reliever last year, and last started in the big leagues in 2010, when he started three September games.

Courtesy of Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball

Who closes if Storen is not ready for Opening Day?: Bicep/tricep issues have limited 24-year-old Nats’ closer Drew Storen to just 2.0 IP this Spring after a heavy workload last year in a 43-save season. The Nationals were concerned enough to have Storen undergo an MRI, which revealed no structural damage, and they seem to think he’ll be fine, but there’s already talk about who will close if Storen is unavailable in the first few days/weeks of the season? The Nats signed 35-year-old Brad Lidge this winter, and though he’d be the logical/obvious choice, Davey Johnson seems to have a thing for 24-year-old flamethrower Henry Rodriguez. If the Nationals hand Rodriguez a lead late in one of these games it could get interesting. He has lights out stuff (a 100mph+ heater and a brutal knee-buckling slider) but he also led the league in wild pitches last year. That combination should make for some dramatic late innings.

Is Adam LaRoche the new “Glass Nick” Johnson?: Adam LaRoche tried to play with a slight tear of the labrum in his left shoulder last season in the first year of the 2-year/$16M deal he signed with the Nats and the results after 43 games (.546 OPS in 177 PA’s) were bad enough to convince him shut it down and have surgery for what was by that point a significant tear. His shoulder was getting there this Spring when he injured his foot running the bases. He’s had just 8 AB’s in major league games this Spring and he’s questionable for the start of his second year in D.C. LaRoche could leave a big hole in the Nats’ lineup if he’s limited by injuries again this year.

Jayson Werth Year Two?: Jayson Werth claims he was never comfortable at the plate in 2011. And he’s said that it started last Spring and lasted all season, though he chooses to no longer dwell on the past. He did have a pretty awful Spring last year (.245/.377/.367) in the first ST with Washington after signing a 7-year/$126M dollar deal, but the previous year he was even worse in Spring Training with the Phillies (.203/.299/.407) and went on to have a .296/.388/.532, +5.3 fWAR season. Werth has to improve on 2011’s .232/.330/.389, +2.5 fWAR season if the Nationals have any hope of making a run at their first postseason berth, and he’s hit well this Spring (.257/.316/.600) with three doubles and three HR’s in 35 at bats, so hopefully that’s a good sign of what lies ahead in year two.

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Joe Aiello is the founder of View From the Bleachers and one of the lead writers. Growing up in Chicago, he fondly remembers attending games in the bleachers before that was the popular thing to do. Currently Joe resides in North Carolina with his wife and three kids and helps people protect their assets as an independent insurance agent. Connect with Joe via Twitter / Facebook / E-mail