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Nationals have 'butterflies' ahead of spectator-free opener

(Reuters) - The Washington Nationals had plenty of time to celebrate their World Series title and now are eager to get back to work as the 2020 Major League Baseball season postponed by the COVID-19 outbreak gets set to begin.

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Washington, after a four-month delay, will kick off their 60-game regular season on Thursday with a clash of ace pitchers as the host Nationals send Max Scherzer to the mound while the New York Yankees counter with Gerrit Cole.

“Everybody’s going to have that anxious little bug in them to get going, just because we’ve been through so much through the past few months,” said Scherzer.

“The fact we have baseball going up here in this country, to be able to get out there and show our game off and be one of the first sports back, to go out there and compete during this pandemic.

“Hopefully, we can be a good influence and show everybody how to do this the right way.”

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, spectators will not be allowed at any ballparks for at least the start of MLB’s reduced 60-game season, which will follow a regionally-based schedule to limit the amount of travel.

Despite opening their season in what will otherwise be an eerily empty stadium, the anticipation ahead of a new campaign is the same as any other.

“I’ll still have the same butterflies I have every year,” said Nationals infielder Howie Kendrick.

“I think every year we start the season, you never forget that feeling. Opening Day since I was a kid, there’s always been those butterflies.”

While Washington may have had more time than usual to revel in their victory over the Houston Astros in last October’s World Series, they are ready to get back down to business knowing they are a now a hunted team.

“It all kind of sunk in once you put that ring on your finger,” said Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki.

“Now you’ve got a bullseye on your back. Guys are gunning for you. You’re the defending champs. You’ve got to go out there and defend the championship.”

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond

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