The Washington Times - March 20, 2011, 05:37PM

VIERA, Fla. — Tom Gorzelanny threw 84 pitches in five innings of work, allowed four hits and two earned runs on a wind-aided home run to right field on Sunday in the Nationals’ 6-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Space Coast Stadium. In the process, the left-hander solidified his place as the Nationals fifth starter.

“It would be very hard, at this point, not to have Gorzelanny in there,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman.

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The Nationals came into spring training with several candidates for the role. However, after acquiring Gorzelanny via trade this offseason — sending three prospects to the Cubs in order to get him — he was the clear frontrunner for the job.

Strong performances this spring by Ross Detwiler and Chad Gaudin have brought a little competition to the table, but Gorzelanny’s continued improvement after overcoming walking pneumonia at the start of camp has all but ended the debate.

Gaudin hasn’t pitched in a major league game since March 10 when he tossed five scoreless innings, allowed four hits and a walk and struck out six. He’s been getting his work in on the minor league fields and pitched five more innings over there today. He threw around 85 pitches and let up one earned run early.

“Gaudin is really doing a good job,” Riggleman said. “I feel like Mike (Rizzo) acquired Tom Gorzelanny, we gave up some players for him, we brought him in as a starter. We didn’t bring him in as a reliever. We promised Gaudin every opportunity to compete for a starting job. He’s still doing that.”

Gaudin, who is on a minor league deal and would almost certainly draw interest from other teams should the Nationals find him expendable, could also be used in long relief for Washington, though Rule V pick Brian Broderick is also being considered for that role.

Detwiler has an option remaining and, while one scout said he feels Detwiler’s got the potential to be a solid No. 3 starter for the Nationals in the near future, he could be ticketed to begin the year at Triple-A Syracuse.

Yunesky Maya, the other potential candidate coming into the spring, simply hasn’t forced the issue with his pitching. While Maya has certainly looked good at times, he’s also struggled the second time through a batting order and been susceptible to big innings.

Theoretically, because of so many scheduled off days early in the season, the Nationals won’t even need a fifth starter until the third week of the season or so. Nonetheless, it seems Gorzelanny would have to do something completely catastrophic to ruin his chances of that starter being him, whenever the time comes.

“I feel like I’ve gone out and done my job,” Gorzelanny said. “I’ve been working on getting ready this spring and I think the things I was able to do last year (with the Cubs) was a good step towards coming in here and kind of doing the same thing or even better.

“I feel I have what it takes to be here, but that’s obviously not my decision. I’ve just got to worry about what’s next and worry about what I do tomorrow and find out when the decision is made.”

— In an attempt to get a better handle on the competition for the starting spot in center field, Riggleman scratched Ivan Rodriguez, who was originally slated to DH on Sunday, and put Nyjer Morgan in in his place. That way, with Roger Bernadina in left field and Rick Ankiel playing center, all three candidates for the job were playing in the same game.

Morgan was 2-for-4 with two strikeouts on the day, Ankiel went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and Bernadina finished the day 1-for-4 with a single.

“I thought everybody played good,” Riggleman said. “It’s just a tough call there. (Michael) Morse has done such a good job (in left field) and now we got people fighting for a job in center. It’s kind of like earlier, all of pitchers who were starting, nobody pitched themselves out of a starting rotation job. And none of these center fielders are playing themselves out of a job.”

Riggleman hinted that a decision wasn’t necessarily imminent, despite there being just eight games left in spring training.

“We can take it to the end,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of eyes on it upstairs. Mike (Rizzo) and Bob Boone, Davey Johnson. We’ve got people down here in uniform, myself and the coaches. Minor league people who have seen them play in the past. We’ve got a lot of opinions, a lot of ideas. I’m going to have to sign off on one of them here. But I don’t really have to do it until pretty close to the end.”

Rodriguez, who gave up his at-bats to Morgan on Sunday, said he expected to play on Monday when the team traveled to Jupiter to face St. Louis. The scratch was not injury-related.

— Todd Coffey, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard allowed a combined four runs over four innings in relief on Sunday with Coffey and Storen allowing one earned run each and Clippard pitching a scoreless ninth.

“I thought [Storen] threw one bad pitch with the breaking ball that they doubled into left center,” Riggleman said. “The ball was coming out of his hand good. Just a little progress.

“Clipp was good. He’s having a little trouble just nailing down consistent strikes. He’ll throw a couple great pitches, and then he’ll throw a couple that are well out of the zone. I’m glad he’s going home with a zero behind his name so he can feel like he made some progress.”

— The Nationals loss on Sunday was their seventh straight. They’ll hit the road again on Monday, traveling to Jupiter for a 1:05 p.m. game against St. Louis. Livan Hernandez will start for the Nationals.