Now that the trade deadline is over, manager Davey Johnson sees the Nationals' chief goal the rest of the year as answering as many questions for next year as he can. That's why we could see a youth movement in the starting rotation in the next two months - starting on Thursday, when Ross Detwiler rejoins the Nationals' starting staff against the Rockies.
Detwiler will take Jason Marquis' spot in the rotation, at least for now, Johnson said on Sunday. He's been pitching in long relief, and has done an impressive job, allowing just two runs in 10 innings. But the Nationals need to figure out if their No. 1 pick from the 2007 draft has a future as a major league starter, and they'll get a chance to look at him this week.
"He's a good young arm," Johnson said. "He's pitching awful good. He's done a good job out of the 'pen. We had high hopes on him. He's very poised out there, makes quality pitches, he had a great spring training. By all accounts, he probably should have made the club out of spring."
That means, at least for now, Tom Gorzelanny will remain in the bullpen - if the Nationals were in a pennant race, Johnson said he would handle things differently. But the Nationals are 11 games behind the Braves for the wild card, and in last place by 1 1/2 games in the NL East, so there's not much reason to do anything but plan for the future right now.
You'll hear players talk differently about that - Jayson Werth said on Sunday the Nationals' goal is to make the playoffs, though he conceded they'd have to go on a serious run to do it. That's probably understating it; if the Braves played only .500 ball the rest of the way, they'd finish with 89 wins, and the Nationals would have to go 39-16 to pass them. Contingency plans just aren't developed with the idea that two months of a .709 winning percentage are possible, and the Nationals haven't shown the pedigree to pull off that kind of stretch.
So they'll continue along the course this year was about all along, developing players for 2012 and solving questions for a year where they might actually be able to make some noise. The Nationals want to see prospects Tom Milone and Brad Peacock at some point, too, and they'll likely have Stephen Strasburg in their rotation within the next six weeks.
Jordan Zimmermann's impending shutdown (he's got about four more starts until he hits his 160-innings limit) will open up a spot, but the Nationals will need others. Over the next two months, finding ways to see their young starters will be as big of a focus as anything else they do.