VIERA, Fla. - The Nationals' spring rotation is coming into form about how it was expected to look. John Lannan will pitch the third game of the spring, and Jason Marquis will pitch the fourth. But just because those two pitchers are following Livan Hernandez in exhibition games doesn't mean they'll necessarily pitch the second and third games of the regular season.
The Nationals' early schedule makes it difficult for them to set up their early pitching staff. They are off the day after opening day - they've had an off-day after their last three home openers, just in case of rain - and they have an off-day every Monday in April. That means by the time they arrive in Florida on April 5, the Nationals will have played three games in five days.
There are a couple ways the team can set up its pitching staff. We know Hernandez will start the opener March 31; Lannan and Marquis could pitch on an extra day's rest on April 2 and 3 against the Braves, before the Nationals' final two starters pitch the first two games in Florida. But that would mean every starter but Hernandez would be pitching on extra rest, and the team's fifth starter would only get two starts in the first two weeks of the season.
The Nationals could also go without a fifth starter until April 10, working with four starters like they've done the last two times they've opened at home. But if, say, Tom Gorzelanny and Jordan Zimmermann are the last two starters in the rotation, the Nationals might have their hands tied from a roster standpoint, since Gorzelanny doesn't have any options left and they might not want to waste one on Zimmermann when they already burned one on a similar move in 2009.
They could also skip Lannan and the No. 4 starter the first time through the rotation, have them throw simulated games on off-days and get everyone on a normal work schedule by the start of the Marlins series.
What we do know is this: In a perfect world, the Nationals would set their rotation up with Hernandez, Lannan and Marquis. We'll see how the spring schedule affects those plans.