- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2011

History may favor the Philadelphia Phillies‘ starting rotation. The group features three Cy Young Awards, contracts that total $65 million this year and five 20-win seasons.

But in the first two weeks, the numbers are on the side of the Washington Nationals’ unheralded five.

Yes, its early. This could be a distant memory by the time the cold, swirling winds fade and summers humidity blankets Nationals Park.

Yet entering Wednesday nights contest against the Phillies, Nationals starters went at least five innings in each game and recorded five quality starts in 10 tries.

“Were pretty much all feeding off each other right now,” said Jordan Zimmerman, who is 1-1 with a 3.18 earned run average in two starts. “If one guy pitches well, the next guy is going to go out there and try to do a little better.”In 10 games, Nationals starters are 3-3 with a 3.95 ERA. Opponents are batting only .251.

That continued when Livan Hernandez delivered 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball in Tuesday’s series opener. His sinker feels comfortable enough to throw in any court. Plenty of ground balls follow.

But the veteran shrugs off talk about pitching deep in games. After all, Hernandez asks, isn’t that what starting pitchers are supposed to do?

“If we get to seven innings, we’ve got a chance to win,” said Hernandez, who has topped 200 innings 10 times in his career. “Were doing the job.”

On the other side are the Phillies‘ starters, talked about as some of the best ever entering the season.

But the start has not been smooth. Over 55 1/3 innings, the group has compiled a 5.05 ERA and surrendered 63 hits.

Cliff Lee, signed to a 5-year, $120 million contract during the offseason, and Joe Blanton, have been battered for 31 hits and 21 runs over 20 2/3 innings.

But as the Nationals rotation has done the opposite and pitched deeper in games, it has kept the bullpen from being taxed. That group has thrown 35 2/3 innings, struck out almost one batter per inning and held hitters to a .235 average. The starters talk of keeping the group fresh for the inevitable bad outing.

“It helps the bullpen out a lot,” Tom Gorzelanny said. “It’ll take the strain off them. Our goal is to get as deep as we can in games. If we can get seven, eight nine innings that’s what we strive for.”

Gorzelanny’s lone start as the rotation’s No. 5 man - six runs over 5 1/3 innings - was a rare break from the otherwise solid efforts.

To the left-hander, the key to the rotations start isn’t ability. That’s something the Phillies‘ group is loaded with. Instead, Gorzelanny believes the games mental side is decisive.

“Were going out there and pitching with confidence. That’s the biggest thing,” Gorzelanny said. “To go out there and know what you can do well each time, that takes you a long way in this game. Much more than ability.”