Scherzer named Mets Opening Day starter

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — One of the game’s biggest big-game pitchers will be on the mound for the Mets on Opening Day.

MLB Network announced the Opening Day starters for all 30 clubs Friday, with the Mets revealing Max Scherzer as their choice to start March 30 in Miami against the Marlins. He’ll oppose Sandy Alcantara at LoanDepot Park.

“It’s awesome. It’s a heck of a day to pitch on,” Scherzer said after taking the win in the Mets’ 10-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday. “The atmospheres are crazy at every single venue that you’re in. It’s going to be a great day and it’s really fun to go out there and get the ball in that situation.”

This will be Scherzer’s first Opening Day start for the Mets but the seventh of the veteran ace’s career. Scherzer made six Opening Day starts for the Washington Nationals, including four straight Opening Day starts from 2018-2021.

The Mets have long planned to put Scherzer up there on Day 1 but declined to announce it in order to allow MLB Network to reveal all of the matchups.

“I think it became official a few days ago when they tipped me off,” Scherzer said. “But when we set out in spring, we had kind of already mapped it out.”

This is exactly what the Mets envisioned when they signed the three-time Cy Young Award winner in December 2021. The Mets had hoped to use Scherzer or Jacob deGrom in the 2022 opener, but deGrom failed to make it out of camp healthy and Scherzer needed a few extra days to deal with an oblique issue that later landed him on the injured list.

Instead, Tylor Megill made the start and earned the win over the Washington Nationals. It was a strong outing by Megill, but he’s currently slotted into the back end of the rotation since it currently looks a lot different than it did at this time last year. It’s much deeper and all but Jose Quintana are healthy.

“I’ve been paying attention to how I ramp up, the pitch count, and seeing my body responds to that,” he said. “Here I am ramped up, I got to 100 pitches and I feel great. The (oblique) is responding well, I’m not having any lingering effects from it. That’s the good news, I’ve got my side built up and strong like my arm is as well.

Scherzer reached that 100-pitch mark in his final Grapefruit League start of spring Friday against the Rays at Tropicana Field, opting to make the three-hour trip across the state instead of remaining in Port St. Lucie to pitch on the back fields. Scherzer looked to be in midseason form against a Rays lineup that featured several regulars, limiting them to two earned runs on four hits, walking two and striking out 12.

Throwing 100 pitches in the last spring outing isn’t typical for most pitchers, but Scherzer isn’t exactly a typical pitcher. Reaching that benchmark is important for his progression and it’s been an effective way to prepare for a regular-season workload for him for years.

“I’ve always said you want to experience 100 pitches before the end of the regular season because spring training games are not at the same level of intensity as a regular season game,” Scherzer said. “That’s why you want to get to 100 today so that you can be at 100 when the intensity ramps up.”

Justin Verlander is expected to start the home opener April 6, also against the Marlins, but he’ll start the third game of the season instead of the second.

With seven games before the club plays its first one at Citi Field, the rotation will need to be configured to make sure Verlander is in line for the home opener. The Mets are also debating whether or not to start the season with a six-man rotation. These details will be discussed over the weekend when the Mets hold a personnel meeting to finalize the 26-man roster and configure the starting rotation for the first part of the season.

“We could have done either one of them but we set up Justin to pitch the home opener, so they’re both going to be in a good spot for us,” manager Buck Showalter said. “It doesn’t preclude anyone from making X number of starts for us on the year. We’d like to kind of split those guys too.”