From a perspective of individual performances, opening day couldn't have provided much more promise for the Washington Nationals. Their MVP homered in his first at-bat, their main offseason acquisition provided a game-winning hit and their ace was effective.
Now it's on to Stephen Strasburg for what the club hopes can be a more complete season and an extension of his late-2015 form as the Nationals seek a two-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night at Turner Field.
Strasburg, entering the last season of his contract, was by no means bad last season. His WHIP (1.11), strikeouts per nine innings (10.96) and fielding-independent pitching (2.84) were in line with his career numbers, but injuries limited him to 23 starts and 127 1-3 innings. He went 11-7 with a 3.46 ERA and .236 opponent batting average - both career highs.
But any struggles he experienced with those injuries were largely forgotten over his last 10 starts with the right-hander returning from more than a month off due to a left oblique strain and going 6-2 with a 1.90 ERA and .179 OBA.
"I don't know the reason for it, but I do know that I did have some injuries and I wasn't commanding the baseball like I have in the past," Strasburg told MLB's official website. "I tried to battle through it and the mechanics were a little bit off. Once I started to look at video and started to see exactly what was going on, that's when I was able to make some adjustments."
Strasburg has won his last three starts versus the Braves while compiling 18 scoreless innings, though that's only gotten him to 6-7 with a 3.77 ERA in 19 career starts against them. Among players with at least 20 plate appearances against him, Freddie Freeman's .429 average (12 for 28 with three home runs and two doubles) is the best in baseball. The first baseman homered on opening day along with Adonis Garcia.
The clubs started the season Monday with Washington's 4-3 win in 10 innings. Bryce Harper homered in the first inning, and Daniel Murphy went deep in the fourth before his RBI double in the 10th capped his Nationals debut. Max Scherzer limited Atlanta to two solo homers over seven innings to help manager Dusty Baker to his first win since going 90-72 with Cincinnati in 2013.
"It's kind of like the game telling me, welcome back," Baker said.
Bud Norris is also hoping for a career resurgence in his Atlanta debut after going 3-11 last season with Baltimore and San Diego and finishing with a career-worst 6.72 ERA in 11 starts and 27 relief appearances. He finished the spring 1-3 with a 6.46 ERA in six starts, but that leveled out some with five runs allowed in 11 innings over his last two outings.
"These last couple (of starts), it's really important to get deeper into the game and really kind of fine tune everything," Norris said after giving up three runs and six hits in five innings against the Orioles on Thursday. "My breaking ball was much sharper today, and the sinker felt good to both sides of the plate. It was nice pitching deep in the game."
Norris also dealt with health issues last season - he was placed on the disabled list twice during a particularly draining battle with bronchitis - and Atlanta is eying a return to his 15-8 record and 3.65 ERA in 28 starts in 2014 with the Orioles.
The right-hander is 2-1 with a 5.33 ERA in seven games against the Nationals. Ryan Zimmerman is 5 for 14 with three homers against him.