Mark Hornbaker: Slow and steady with Strasburg

With Stephen Strasburg scheduled to make his 2011 debut with the Nationals this evening, I think it is important we remember Strasburg will be on a pitch count limit of 60 pitches. I think the Nationals will follow the same path the team took with Jordan Zimmermann's comeback last season.

The Nationals kept Zimmermann on a pitch count between 70 to 86 pitches in his seven starts last season. As it looks now, Strasburg will make four starts before the season ends - if his arm is feeling well. I would expect the team would follow the same course next season with Strasburg as they did with Zimmermann this season, with Strasburg only pitching into late August or early September.

If all goes well, the Nationals will start the 2012 season with two No. 1-quality starters on the rotation. This would make the 2012 season the first season since the franchise left Montreal in 2004 that it had at least one true No. 1 in the rotation. With Zimmermann and Strasburg both in the rotation, it automatically gives the Nationals the depth they never had in the past.

As I see it, the Nats' No. 3 starter in the rotation in April will be John Lannan and if Chien-Ming Wang is still on the roster in 2012, he would most likely be the No. 4 starter. If Wang isn't on the 2012 squad, I believe Ross Detwiller would be the No. 4.

Deciding the No. 5 starter if Wang is not in the rotation is what every team dreams for: competition between three or four pitchers such as lefty Tom Milone, righty Brad Peacock and possibly the right hander Shairon Martis. If Wang is not with the team, you could see the Nationals' bring in a free agent or two to also compete for the last spot in the rotation.

Because of the added depth to the starting rotation, I believe the Nats' strong bullpen may get even stronger in 2012 with the possible addition of one or two of the young pitchers that don't get added to the starting rotation. As we all know, just because you start with five starters in early April it doesn't mean those will be the same five starters in May or any of the following months.

Mark Hornbaker blogs about the Nats at Nationals Daily News and shares his views on baseball in D.C. as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative to welcome guest bloggers to out little corner of the Internet. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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