Opening day starter still up in the air

VIERA, Fla. - Manager Davey Johnson isn't ready to announce how his starting pitchers will line up for the first couple regular season series just yet, but that decision will come fairly soon.

While we've now been through the Nationals' rotation twice, Johnson wants to see each starter go one more time and get up around that 75-pitch limit before he makes any decisions on how things will play out in early April.

The two obvious candidates get the honors as the Nats' opening day starter are Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, although I guess Jordan Zimmermann can't entirely be ruled out, either.

Both Strasburg and Gonzalez have thrown well through their first two outings, although Gonzalez's statistics have been superior to his righty counterpart. Gonzalez has unofficially tossed seven scoreless innings this spring (four of which were taken out of the books in Sunday's rainout), while Strasburg has allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings.

One interesting factor that could play a part of this decision is that whoever is tabbed as the No. 2 starter to begin the season would be in line to start the Nats' home opener against the Reds on April 12.

Whether that's Strasburg, whose presence on the mound during the home opener would obviously thrill Nationals fans, or Gonzalez, who could make his Nationals Park debut in the opener, it seems to be a win-win for the organization.

Some have wondered whether the Nats would prefer to hold Strasburg back a few days to start the season, essentially pushing back the date up to which the 23-year-old could work later in the year. Since Strasburg will be on a limit of 160 innings this season, the Nats could make sure some of those innings come deeper into the summer by starting the righty lower in the rotation to begin the season.

But Johnson doesn't seem enamored with that idea. He's of the mind that in the major leagues, you should be thinking about winning today, not six months down the road.

Count me in his camp on that topic, for what it's worth. A win is a win, no matter when it comes.

According to Johnson, there are three primary factors that will go into his decision of how the rotation shakes out to start the season.

The first is where the pitchers' arm strength and command are once they've made it through three outings; the second is the matchups which will be in play; and the third is the innings limit of various pitchers.

However it plays out, the Nats will bring one of the more talented rotations in the league with them to Chicago and New York for the season's first two series.

That much we know.

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