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Nationals name Strasburg as the Opening Day starter

Reigning National League Manager of the Year Award winner Davey Johnson is 70 years old. It has been announced that this will be his last year as the Nationals manager after 17 big league seasons. In that span, Johnson has posted winning records in all five stops he's made, seven top-three finishes in the Manager of the Year Award voting with two wins, and six postseason appearances, including a pennant winner and a World Series championship with the Mets in 1986.

Mike Redmond is 41 years old. The Marlins are his first shot as a big league manager after prepping with two seasons at Class A Lansing in the Blue Jays' system.

Johnson's Nats had the best record in the Major Leagues last season and appear to have gotten better. Redmond's Fish finished last in the NL East and saw many of their most recognizable players depart, including Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Hanley Ramirez and Emilio Bonifacio.

Two teams that seem to be in very different places -- World Series or bust for Washington, the first steps of a rebuilding process for Miami -- will be in the same place on Monday: At Nationals Park for Opening Day. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET.

Despite their striking contrasts, both teams have something to prove. The Nationals that they can live up to sky-high expectations. The Marlins that they can overachieve until the haul of top prospects they got in return for their stars begin arriving.

It won't be easy for Miami in the opener. The Marlins will be facing Stephen Strasburg, who is one of the reasons the Nats are so highly regarded. Coming off Tommy John surgery in 2010, Strasburg was on an innings limit and was shut down in August last season. That wasn't a popular decision at the time, but now that the ace right-hander is fully healthy and unrestricted, hindsight may well look more favorably on it.

"Great pitcher," Redmond said. "I've been watching video on him since I got hired. It'll be a great challenge for us. They've obviously got a pretty good team. We'll have our work cut out for us. But I'm excited. We'll be ready for it."

The other reason for excitement on the banks of the Anacostia River is Bryce Harper, who was called up in May and went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award. But Johnson stressed that this team has more than two trump cards to play.

"It's not the two players that makes the Nationals a good ballclub. It's the 25. They're just pieces of the cog," Johnson said. "They're talented, yes. It's nice to write about No. 1 picks and tremendous upside to them, but when I look at this ballclub, I look at [third baseman Ryan] Zimmerman, I look at the catching, I look at Desi [shortstop Ian Desmond], Espy [second baseman Danny Espinosa], [first baseman Adam] LaRoche. I look at every position, and when I see it, we have a little more of an upside even from last year. You're strong by having 25 good players, not just two marquee guys."

Not to mention two starters -- Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann -- who would be possible No. 1s on other clubs, new closer Rafael Soriano at the back of a deep bullpen, new center fielder Denard Span and Jayson Werth in right.

"Harper hit .270 last year," Johnson said. "He had a rough stretch. And through all that [shutdown] thing at the end, Stras had some rough starts. I look at them to weather the bad times they went through last year. That's why we're very optimistic about this year."

On the other hand, Redmond knows that youthful energy and enthusiasm can go a long way.

"It's a new start. It's a clean slate," Redmond said. "I think it's going to be an easy sell. The sell is the opportunity. There has been so much change and guys are so young. This reminds me a lot of '98, when I got to the big leagues. It was a great opportunity for us. Sure, there were good days and bad days, but we all went through it together. When we won the World Series in 2003, it was so satisfying with all that we had gone through."

The influx of young talent could begin later this season. Nobody would be surprised to see outfielder Christian Yelich, right-hander Jose Fernandez or outfielder Jake Marisnick playing in the big leagues this season.

"It's definitely a great opportunity for everybody," said outfielder Juan Pierre who, along with third baseman Placido Polanco, gives the Marlins a veteran presence. "I think if everybody pulls together that we can actually have a good team. I know we're going to have to outwork guys. I know the young guys are working, and eager to go."

The Marlins also have 23-year-old Giancarlo Stanton, one of the most feared sluggers in the game. Former Marlins All-Star Mike Lowell, who spent a lot of time around the team this spring, was impressed with what he saw.

"I think there is a lot more talent than people think on this team," Lowell said. "Now, how that translates, how soon? We'll see. I think the stereotype that there is no chance of winning here, I don't think that's the case."

The Nationals will be taking the first step on Monday on a journey they hope will end in the World Series. The Marlins will be taking the first step toward trying to get where the Nats are now.

Marlins: Nolasco opposes Strasburg on the hill

• Right-hander Ricky Nolasco, 30, has more big league wins (76) than the rest of the Marlins' projected rotation combined (67). So, it's no surprise that he was named the Opening Day starter.

"Well, then, we'd better win," Nolasco told Redmond when the manager gave him the news.

"He's the leader on that staff," Redmond said. "I know he's excited about it. He has that experience. He knows how to pitch. He knows the league."

Not only will this be Nolasco's second Opening Day start, it will be the second time he's done it against the Nationals. In '09, he allowed five runs in six innings and got the win in a 12-6 Marlins victory.

Nationals: Ramos, Suzuki form top-notch backstop tandem

• With Wilson Ramos almost fully recovered from May's knee surgery and veteran Kurt Suzuki also on the roster, Johnson has options behind the plate.

"I look at them both pretty much being on equal footing," Johnson said.

It's possible that Ramos and Suzuki will open the season splitting playing time, which is how they were used during the final stages of Spring Training.

"We'll see how it pans out," Johnson said. "Last I checked, they're both hitting good and catching every other day. If it ain't broke, why do I gotta fix it?"

Worth noting

• The Marlins and Nationals split 18 games last year.

• Soriano is positioned to become the seventh reliever to lead the team in saves in the last seven years following Tyler Clippard ('12), Drew Storen ('11), Matt Capps ('10), Mike MacDougal ('09), Jon Rauch ('08) and Chad Cordero ('07). Comments