(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Manager Matt Williams named Stephen Strasburg the Nationals’ opening day starter for the third consecutive season, choosing the team’s anointed ace over 2013 all-star Jordan Zimmermann for the March 31 opener in New York against the Mets.

“He has experience there. He’s done it before,” Williams said. “And he’s earned it.”

Gio Gonzalez will follow Strasburg and Zimmermann will take the ball in the season’s third game. Williams wanted Gonzalez, a left-hander, to separate the right-handed Strasburg and Zimmermann.

“We spoke to Jordan,” Williams said. “He’s good with wherever and whenever he pitches. Opening day is important. But the rest of the games are important, too.”

The Nationals will determine the back half of their rotation later in the spring, after they have a clearer idea of Doug Fister’s status. Fister will be able to make his first turn in the rotation barring a setback, but the Nationals have not determined whether that will come in the season’s fourth, fifth or sixth game. Because of an off day, the Nationals could let Strasburg pitch twice before Fister’s debut, if they want to give Fister extra time.

Fister will face a major league opponent Saturday for the first time since he felt inflammation in his elbow three weeks ago. He is scheduled to throw 45 pitches over three innings against the Marlins.

“We’ll have to see how he reacts to all of his further work,” Williams said. “He feels good right now, and will continue to progress.”

Strasburg, 25, punched up a 3.00 ERA last season in 183 innings and finished with a hard-luck 8-9 record. Strasburg underwent surgery in November to remove bone chips from his elbow, which has not hindered him this spring. The removal of the bone chips has allowed Strasburg more extension and flexibility with his arm, and he has been toying with adding a slider to his arsenal.

“He wants to be better than he is,” Williams said. “Coming into spring, his objective was to hold baserunners better. He’s working on those things here, because he wants to be as good as he can possibly be. He’s got great stuff. He’s certainly got experience on opening day.”

In the past two years, Strasburg has allowed one run in 14 opening day innings. He earned the win last year at Nationals Park against the Marlins with seven three-hit, shutout innings.

In three starts this spring, Strasburg has allowed one earned runs over nine innings, striking out five while walking three.