- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 17, 2012

VIERA, Fla. — With Jordan Zimmermann’s four scoreless innings Saturday afternoon, the Washington Nationals completed their third full turn through their starting rotation this spring.

This is when Nationals manager Davey Johnson said he might reveal the rotation order — and disclose who he’ll be turning to on April 5 at Wrigley Field to open the season.

Not so fast. The Nationals still have several pitching questions to be answered before they can finalize anything.

“I’m not ready yet,” Johnson said with a smile when asked Saturday morning if he’d reveal his order.

Chien-Ming Wang on Saturday morning walked through the Nationals’ complex without a significant limp and was in good spirits — all positive signs that the left hamstring strain he suffered Thursday was feeling better. But with Opening Day less than three weeks away, the staff is going to have to take shape soon.

John Lannan’s chances of making the rotation have increased, even if simply based on the uncertainty surrounding Wang. But a note on the bulletin board in the clubhouse provided one clue that Lannan, who is out of options, may not be the lone competitor for the No. 5 job. On Sunday, Ross Detwiler will throw six innings (or 75 pitches) in a minor league game.

The Nationals will continue to keep Detwiler stretched out as if he were a starting pitcher lining up to be in their rotation. With Johnson saying Saturday that he will carry seven relievers — and two of them long relievers capable of spot starts — how Lannan, Wang and Detwiler all end up fitting into the staff remains one of the spring’s most compelling questions.

Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Henry Rodriguez, Brad Lidge and Sean Burnett are already set for the bullpen. Tom Gorzelanny figures to join them, and he will be the first long man as well. The rotation’s top four is set with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson.

So, where does that leave Lannan and Detwiler?

Lannan, who made his first career relief appearance on Thursday in what was planned as a piggyback of Wang’s start, isn’t a prime relief candidate.

“John Lannan’s been kind of competing with Wang for that spot in the rotation,” Johnson said. “And I expect that he’s going to still be in that spot. … He’s a starter.”

Wang is also not in the running for a relief spot.

Of the three potential No. 5 spot candidates, Detwiler has the most upside. While Johnson danced around the question of whether there was competition between Lannan and Detwiler if Wang needs more time, he is keeping Detwiler more stretched out than Gorzelanny, his other projected long reliever.

“As far as I’m concerned, we still haven’t seen the best of Ross Detwiler,” Johnson said. “I’m going to get him ready as a starter. I’m going to do the same thing with Gorzo — but not to the extent that I’m going to be doing it with Det.

“Young Detwiler shows a lot of promise. And I want to make sure that he gets [an opportunity] … he has been throwing the heck out of the ball since he got here.”

Craig Stammen will be on a similar schedule and Johnson expects all three to be able to throw 80-100 pitches by the end of the spring. Gorzelanny, though, is a reluctant long reliever at best.

When he was moved to the bullpen last season to make room for Detwiler in the rotation, the left-hander was honest about his desire to have stayed as a starter. Once Gorzelanny warmed to the bullpen, he wanted to play a more integral part, and he reiterated those desires this spring.

With 18 days between now and Opening Day, there is plenty of time to allow some of this to sort itself out. But, there’s no doubt the Nationals are going to have some tough choices in the days ahead.

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