VIERA, Fla. - We head back to Jupiter for the second time in four days today, as the Nationals will take on the Marlins for the final time this spring.
We're getting a lot of drives down I-95 over the final week of spring games, with three trips to Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter and two to Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie. My rental car is getting worked pretty good of late.
Taylor Jordan starts for the Nats today, and I believe reigning National League Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez will get the ball for the Marlins. That could make for an interesting afternoon of ball.
Jordan, like Tanner Roark yesterday, will get to make his final statement in the battle for the last available spot in the Nats rotation. Those two right-handers are competing along with veteran right-hander Chris Young, with a decision to be announced in mere days now.
How do the three righties stack up right now as spring winds down? Glad you asked.
Roark capped off a strong spring yesterday by allowing a run over 5 2/3 innings, giving him a 3.29 ERA over 13 2/3 spring innings, with 11 strikeouts and three walks.
Today, Jordan will wrap up his first big league spring training. He enters this afternoon's start against the Marlins having allowed eight runs and 19 hits in 15 spring innings (4.80 ERA), but overall, he's pitched pretty well. And his strikeout-to-walk numbers this spring (18 Ks, one walk) are dynamite.
Young - mentioned by manager Matt Williams a week ago as a third candidate for the final rotation spot, but considered by many to be a long shot - has also put together a solid spring, allowing four runs in 10 1/3 innings (3.48 ERA) with nine strikeouts and four walks. The veteran right-hander's velocity has climbed back up from where it was last year, when his fastball was topping out in the low-80s, and his slider has been good.
As The Post reported yesterday, Young has an opt-out clause in his minor league deal that he can exercise by Thursday, which would allow him to look for a big league job elsewhere if the Nats don't add him to their 25-man roster.
So where does that all leave us?
Well, there seems to be a growing sense around the team that while Jordan is the least experienced of the remaining candidates for the final rotation spot, he's currently the favorite. The 24-year-old has the highest upside, has good command, and with his hard sinker, he's shown that he can get quick and easy outs against big league hitters. His slider and changeup have also been working this spring, and his command of those pitches has led to the elevated strikeout numbers over his career norms.
Roark has also impressed, but unlike Jordan, he can help the Nationals out of the bullpen as well. He made 14 appearances with the Nats last season, nine of which came in relief, with him posting a 1.19 ERA in those nine outings. Roark can get work in multiple-inning stints, if needed, but also showed last year that he can handle shorter workloads and then pitch more frequently.
Personally, I like the way Roark attacks hitters and feel he could be a great fit as this team's fifth starter, but Williams has talked about wanting to take his 25 best players north to start the regular season. Putting Jordan in the rotation and Roark in the bullpen might allow the Nats to keep the most talent on their pitching staff possible.
If Jordan falters, Roark or Ross Detwiler could slide into the rotation to make a spot start. But it seems like Jordan might be the favorite to earn the last spot in the Nats rotation at this point.
As for Young, the Nats would like to keep him around at Triple-A Syracuse as rotation depth, but he might be able to find a big league job somewhere given the stuff he's shown.
We'll see how it all plays out. Roark, Jordan and Young will know where they'll be heading to begin the season soon enough.
Update: The Nats announced this morning that right-hander Blake Treinen has been reassigned to minor league camp.
Treinen, acquired last offseason as part of the Michael Morse trade, really impressed this spring, with a power two-seam fastball that sat around 96 mph and touched the upper 90s. He posted a 4.66 ERA in 9 2/3 spring innings, but turned quite a few heads in his first big league camp, and we could very well end up seeing him at the big league level this season.
With Treinen now out of the mix, the final bullpen candidates, along with Roark are right-hander Aaron Barrett and left-ganders Xavier Cedeno and Michael Gonzalez. Williams has said that righty Ryan Mattheus won't be ready for opening day because he still needs to build up arm strength as he works back from a chest injury.
The Nats now have 35 players left in big league camp.