VIERA, Fla. -- John Lannan and Jason Marquis, or Jason Marquis and John Lannan, are the Nationals' top two starters. That much is clear. Has been all spring.
But when the Nationals open their season on April 5 against the two-time National League champion Phillies, with a sellout crowd and possibly President Obama on hand, they'll finally have to put those two starters in some order. They don't know what that order will be yet -- and what's more, they don't know how they'll determine it.
If they go with the more experienced pitcher, Marquis is the Opening Day starter. If they go with the pitcher who's been the stopper on the staff the last two years, that's Lannan. Marquis has better numbers against the Phillies, who have handed Lannan six defeats in his eight starts against them and hit .301 off of him, and also has better numbers against left-handed batters.
Further complicating matters is the fact that the Nationals and Phillies play twice in the season's first two weeks, each with a Tuesday off-day in the middle of the series. Both Lannan and Marquis are going to face the Phillies twice, so there's little sense in altering the matchups for six games just to win the first one.
But there's a significance attached to the Opening Day lineup, particularly for the starting pitcher. That's just one factor, but it will affect all the others as manager Jim Riggleman picks his starter.
"There's something about being in that Opening Day lineup that can get in some guys' heads," Riggleman said.
The decision -- or at least the preliminary direction in which the Nationals are headed -- should become clear somewhat soon. The Nationals will put pitchers on an every-fifth-day schedule based on when they will pitch to start the regular season. They're doing that with Stephen Strasburg, who will pitch March 9 against the Tigers and would line up to start April 8 for Class A Potomac's opener.
Based on that, the Opening Day starter should make his first appearance of the spring on March 6, then. Garrett Mock and J.D. Martin will pitch in split-squad games on March 4, and Riggleman said Miguel Batista will get the March 5 start.
Riggleman said he couldn't remember who was starting the 6th, but thought it was Lannan.
In either event, the Nationals should have the flexibility to move starters around by a day, if they decide they want Marquis instead of Lannan, or vice versa.
"We know when we open up the regular season, that somewhere in there we're going to have Lannan and Marquis in some particular order," Riggleman said. "You just back the days up and see what days work best for them to get on a schedule. It fluctuates, because we're going to get some rain days here in Florida, or somebody might turn an ankle. We'll have to play with it. But assuming nothing negative like that happens, we'll kind of get those guys on a schedule where they could throw either one of those days based on how we set them up previously to Opening Day."