Stephen Strasburg. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

VIERA, Fla. — Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg will follow Max Scherzer in the season-opening rotation, Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. Baker has shied away from declaring any starters, but has hinted strongly all spring that Scherzer will start opening day on April 4 in Atlanta. Scherzer started opening day last season, too.

“I haven’t talked to [pitching coach] Mike [Maddux] about it but I’m assuming it’s Scherzer,” Baker said. “He’s the man from the get-go. That’s a pretty good option right there.”

Based on the pitching schedules of spring so far, Strasburg was lined up to start the home opener on April 7, and Baker confirmed that would be the case. As a result, Gonzalez will start the second game of the season on April 6 in Atlanta. The reason for using the left-hander to split up the two power right-handers?

“You want to put Gio in between there and he’s a had a little bit inconsistency going deep into games,” Baker said. “Until that happens, you’d like to have an innings guy right behind that’s still trying to get it together. If not, you’re gonna tax your bullpen for three days in a row, and then potentially your No. 3, 4 or 5 [starters], if they have any short outings, boy, you’re in the bullpen and then stuck with Scherzer coming back.”

In other words, Baker wants to avoid dipping heavily into the bullpen, especially early in the season. By putting Gonzalez in between Scherzer and Strasburg, pitchers more capable of going deeper into the game, the bullpen can potentially get less work. And in May and August, the Nationals have long stretches of games without days off.

“You get upside down and, boy, you get in a bad way, and the next thing following that is a losing streak,” Baker said. “We’re trying to stay out of losing streaks and our bullpen, especially early.”

Baker hasn’t specified the order yet, but Strasburg is expected to be followed by Tanner Roark and Joe Ross.

In unrelated rotation news, Ross said his bruised right heel feels better and was barely swollen on Monday, a day after taking a line drive off his foot. Baker said he heard nothing from the training staff, which he took as a good sign. Ross said he expects to make his regularly-scheduled turn in the rotation.

Because of the line drive, Ross threw only 20 pitches. He thinks he will likely get two more starts before the season so will have a chance to build up his innings count. “That’s more than enough to figure it out,” he said.