Nationals’ pitching staff just about set; Gorzelanny will be fifth starter

LAKELAND, Fla. - With less than a week left in spring training, there seems to be very little uncertainty left about how the Nationals will look on opening day. Their pitching rotation, for one, is effectively set.

Tom Gorzelanny will be the Nationals’ fifth starter, manager Jim Riggleman said Thursday afternoon, and all five pitchers in the team’s rotation will start the year in the majors. Livan Hernandez will pitch against the Braves next Thursday in the opener, Jason Marquis will pitch the first road game of the year against the Marlins and Gorzelanny will likely pitch the fifth game of the year. Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan will be the second and third starters, in some order.

The fact the team has two off days in the first five days of the season complicates the rotation somewhat; it’s possible the Nationals would skip Gorzelanny the first time through the rotation and use him out of the bullpen. But the names, at least, are in place.

Chad Gaudin will be the team’s long reliever, with Ross Detwiler starting the year at Triple-A Syracuse.

Gaudin’s placement in the bullpen only leaves a couple questions left to be solved with the Nationals’ pitching staff. One of them seemingly was settled on Thursday, when Riggleman said it’s likely Henry Rodriguez will start the year on the disabled list.

The hard-throwing right-hander, who had been reduced to bullpen sessions because of control problems, is dealing with a neck injury, Riggleman said. Rodriguez is out of options, so the only way the Nationals could keep him out of the bullpen without exposing him to waivers is by putting him on the disabled list.

“He threw long toss today, trying to change his mechanics around,” Riggleman said. “He’s got something going on (in his neck) that’s just not comfortable. Whether it’s mechanics or whether it’s just general soreness, he had some fairly severe spasms, I guess. They gave him something to relieve it. He immediately feels better. But now we’re looking at a bullpen session tomorrow, probably a day or two off, another bullpen session, maybe a live BP session. It’s getting a little unlikely he could open with us.”

Assuming Rodriguez and Elvin Ramirez both start on the DL, and assigning bullpen spots to Gaudin, Drew Storen, Sean Burnett, Todd Coffey and Tyler Clippard, the only uncertainty in the bullpen is with the final two spots. Doug Slaten seems likely to stick as a lefty specialist, which would mean the Nationals have to decide between Rule 5 pick Brian Broderick and Collin Balester.

Since Balester has an option, and Broderick would have to be offered back to the Cardinals if he doesn’t make the team, the Nationals might send Balester to Syracuse, even though he’s pitched well as of late.