Martinez on rotation depth, Doolittle, Miller (Nats lose 9-8)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Everyone knows the Nationals have a powerful starting rotation - so long as the top five starting pitchers remain healthy.

But what about the rotation depth?

Manager Davey Martinez likes what he sees so far, and thinks there are enough pitchers to form a decent starting five at Triple-A Fresno plus back up the rotation in D.C.

"I like where we're at right now," Martinez said Monday morning before departing for the Grapefruit League game in Jupiter against the Marlins. "During the course of the season, ... things change. So the biggest thing is keeping these guys healthy. ... Our depth is really, really good."

Assuming that Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez occupy the top four spots in the Nationals rotation, that leaves only one spot unspoken for. Jeremy Hellickson, who starts today, seems to have the inside edge on the No. 5 spot, given that he signed a major league contract, but he'll get competition from Erick Fedde, Joe Ross and Austin Voth.

Ross-Throws-Gray-Front-Sidebar.jpgRoss, in his first full season, could wind up as a long man out of the Nationals bullpen as a way for the team to monitor his innings. Fedde and Voth will likely end up fronting the Triple-A rotation, which could also include Henderson Álvarez and Scott Copeland, a pair of non-roster invitees to camp on minor league deals.

The trick now is getting enough innings for Martinez to see all of the pitchers he needs to see. As exhibition games wind down, innings become more valuable and must be given to the hurlers who most need them to prepare.

But there are some ways around this dilemma.

"Especially once minor league camp starts, we can actually stretch them out more and ... let them pitch three or four innings down there," Martinez said.

* Closer Sean Doolittle, who has been excused from camp while dealing with a family emergency, has returned. Martinez said he would give Doolittle a few days to get back into the swing of things, then try to get him in a game by the end of the week.

* Reliever Justin Miller, who made his spring debut in Saturday's 10-6 win over the Twins, continues to experience back stiffness after his one-inning stint, which delayed his first game action.

"He's getting better, but he's still stiff," Martinez said. "We're going to make sure we can just kind of hone in on that area in his back and get him ready, get him back."

Update: Michael A. Taylor's RBI single and a bases-loaded sacrifice fly staked the Nats to a 2-0 lead over the Marlins in the second. Lewis Brinson homered off Hellickson in the bottom half to trim the lead to a run.

Update II: In the third, Anthony Rendon led off by drawing a walk, then scored on Ryan Zimmerman's double to left, with Zimmerman taking third on a throwing error. Kurt Suzuki followed with an RBI single to left for a 4-1 lead, chasing Wei-Yin Chen.

Update III: Brinson homered again off Erick Fedde in the fifth to get the Marlins within 4-2 and Miami scored five times in the sixth off Fedde and Jimmy Cordero to take a 7-4 lead.

Update IV: Jacob Wilson hit a two-run homer in the seventh to get the Nationals within a run at 7-6.

Update V: After the Nats loaded up the bases in the top of the ninth inning, Victor Robles came through with a two-out, two-run single to give the Nationals a 8-7 lead.

Update VI: Gabriel Guerrero, who led off the bottom ninth inning, greeted right-hander Wander Suero with a game-tying home run to center field. Suero then allowed the next three hitters to reach to load the bases, leading to a walk-off single to right field from Isaac Galloway. Marlins win 9-8.

Now that he trusts fastball, Bourque must focus on...
Starting lineups: Nats vs. Marlins at Jupiter

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