VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals’ spring rotation is officially set with six days to go before the Grapefruit League opener on March 3 in Kissimmee vs. the Houston Astros.
Edwin Jackson will start that day, and he’ll be followed to the mound by Tom Gorzelanny. Stephen Strasburg will make his first start of the spring on March 4 at home against Houston and he’ll be followed by Ross Detwiler.
John Lannan will start on March 5 in Port St. Lucie against the Mets and Craig Stammen will be the first reliever out of the bullpen that night. Chien-Ming Wang will also throw a simulated game that day back in Viera and he’ll make his first start on March 10 at home against the Mets, if all goes according to plan, while Lannan will travel to Lakeland that day to face the Detroit Tigers in a split-squad game.
Gio Gonzalez will make his first start as a National on March 6, relieved by Yunesky Maya, and Jordan Zimmermann will round out the starting rotation on March 7 against the Cardinals at home.
Matt Purke, who is slated to start the Nationals’ March 2 exhibition game against Georgetown University, could follow Zimmerman on the 7th as well.
If none of that made any sense, here’s a calendar:
March 2 vs. Georgetown: Matt Purke
March 3 @ Astros: Edwin Jackson; Tom Gorzelanny
March 4 vs. Astros: Stephen Strasburg; Ross Detwiler
March 5 @ Mets: John Lannan; Craig Stammen - Chien-Ming Wang (sim game)
March 6 @ Braves: Gio Gonzalez; Yunesky Maya
March 7 vs. Cardinals: Jordan Zimmermann; (possibly) Matt Purke
Nationals manager Davey Johnson reminded us that this is just a tentative schedule but he added that he planned to treat all 10 pitchers who have the capability of starting as starters early on in the spring schedule.
“Right now I’m getting all the guys I know who have the capability to go five innings prepared to go five innings opening day,” he said. “That’s just the way I prepare my long men.
I don’t think it’s any secret that Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann and Jackson have solidified their place in the Nationals’ rotation, leaving a compelling battle for the No. 5 spot between Detwiler, Lannan and Wang.
Johnson is going to let the performances this spring aid his decision but he made a few comments Saturday afternoon that were interesting in that regard.
Asked specifically about Wang and his role, Johnson said: “Right now I’m counting on him in the rotation. He is throwing the ball, right now, in my estimation, his delivery and everything is looser, freer, looks more like what I remember him. He’s more in a strong sinker position. Before he wasn’t quite there. He looks stronger and better to me this year.”
And with regard to the battle for that No. 5 spot and how the Nationals will figure out what to do with their surplus of pitching: “I’m not going to carry three starters in the ‘pen and (Gorzelanny) did really good out of my ‘pen last year so I have one too many. I have more pitchers than spots available in the lineup. For you that’s insurance, for me that’s a little uncomfortable.”
He then added after a short pause: “Although one of them does have an option.”
That “one” happens to be John Lannan, the Nationals left-hander who’ll make $5 million this year and has twice been the team’s opening day starter.
“It’s not a good option, but it’s an option,” Johnson said.
If the competition for the Nationals’ fifth rotation spot comes down to the wire among Detwiler, Lannan and Wang, there’s no injury that necessitates a disabled list stint that could allow them to keep everyone, and an attractive trade package doesn’t arise, Lannan could open the season in Triple-A solely because he has a minor league option remaining.
Without question, it’d be a tough decision for Lannan to handle and a difficult conversation to have.
“I wouldn’t want to have it,” Johnson said. “I’ve had a lot of tough conversations but I certainly wouldn’t want to have that one. I might leave that up to the higher powers — but that’s not going to be the deciding factor on who’s in the rotation.”