It’s Scherzer vs. Hanson in AFL opener

So much for the Arizona Fall League making a nice, quiet opening to its 17th season.

It’s opening day in Arizona today, and the fall league’s star-studded cast offers a smorgasbord of pitching standouts, none more intriguging than Diamondbacks righthander Max Scherzer being matched opposite Braves righthander Tommy Hanson in one game and Yankees righthander Phil Hughes toeing the rubber in another.

Later in the week, the docket also calls for Red Sox righthander Clay Buchholz on Friday night for the Scottsdale Scorpions and then on Saturday the Surprise Rafters will turn to Brian Matusz, the Orioles’ 2008 first-round pick who will be making his pro debut.

Many eyes today will likely follow the Mesa game against the Phoenix Desert Dogs at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. That game gets under way at 12:35 p.m. local time, with Scherzer on the mound for Phoenix and Hanson pitching for Mesa.

Scherzer was a late addition to the fall league and is using his time there to gain additional innings. He logged 111 innings combined for the Diamondbacks and at Triple-A Tucson. In 56 innings in the majors, he was 0-4, 3.05 with 66 strikeouts and 21 walks.

The fall league could be nothing more than a tuneup for Hanson, but the appeal of his matchup is heightened in the wake of his impressive finish at Double-A Mississippi.

Hanson, who signed for $325,000 as a draft-and-follow ahead of the 2006 season, tore through high class A Myrtle Beach and then finished 8-4, 3.03 in 98 innings in the Southern League, with 114 strikeouts against 41 walks in the Double-A circuit. He was a big reason why Mississippi won its division’s second-half title and went on to win the Southern League championship.

Hughes had two sizzling starts in September for the Yankees as the righthander somewhat redeemed himself for a forgettable April in which he and Ian Kennedy suffered through bad starts and injuries.

Fortunately for Hughes, who pitches for the Peoria Javalinas in their 12:35 p.m. game against Surprise, he gained momentum in August as he fired Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre to the International League playoffs. He struck out 54 in his final 42 innings in the IL, including the postseason.

The rest of the week looks exciting as well, particularly with Matusz making his pro debut.

The Orioles made Matusz the fourth overall pick in June after the lefthander finished 12-2, 1.71 in 105 innings in his junior season at San Diego.

The 21-year-old, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound lefty, has a fastball that sits from 90 to 93 mph and also offers a plus curveball and changeup. His start comes in a 12:35 p.m. game Saturday at Surprise Stadium.