KISSIMMEE, Fla. - The Nationals' fight for the final spot in the rotation is getting into its most crucial stretch of the spring, with Ross Detwiler pitching today, a day after Chad Gaudin and Tom Gorzelanny made strong cases for the spot. But with a pair of off-days in the first five games of the regular season, the Nationals can afford to take their fifth-starter race right to the end of camp.
Manager Jim Riggleman said the team probably won't name a fifth starter until camp breaks on March 29, and there's really no reason for the Nationals to make a decision on the spot before then. They can get by with four starters until the second weekend of the regular season in New York, and could use the extra starter in relief until then.
All three starters look like they could keep things tight until the end of camp, too. Detwiler, who's making his fourth appearance of the spring, has a 2.00 ERA this spring, and Gaudin threw six shutout innings in an intrasquad game yesterday. Gorzelanny, who came to the Nationals in a trade with the Cubs this winter, is making $2.1 million this season. It's tough to ignore those facts in his case for the spot, though he was limited at the beginning of the spring because of a sinus infection and has struggled to throw strikes at times. But he only allowed a run in four innings last night against the Mets. If he continues to make progress, it seems likely he'll win the spot. It's not a clear-cut choice, though.
"The situation is kind of unlike last year," Riggleman said. "Our first game was here last year - we scored four runs early, and the next thing you know, we lost 16 to something. The wind was blowing out, everybody was getting the ball up all spring. This year, we've pitched down pretty good. We've thrown strikes. Everybody's pitching themselves into the rotation. Nobody's pitching themselves out of it. Eventually, they're going to make us make a tough call."