The Mound Is About To Crowd Out Starters

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 27, 2009

CHICAGO, Aug. 26 -- All season, the Washington Nationals talked about protecting their young starting pitchers, and accordingly, those in the front office mapped a plan to limit their innings, even if it meant holding them out of action in September.

Now, as the Nationals head toward the final month, a different conundrum has emerged. The team has at least eight starting pitchers (all currently on the 40-man roster) who might be in the big leagues come September, when rosters expand. It doesn't have enough rotation spots for all of them.

Thus, a new plan: In September, according to interim manager Jim Riggleman, Washington will reserve rotation spots for John Lannan, Craig Stammen, Garrett Mock, and the newly acquired Liván Hernández. The fifth spot will be juggled unconventionally. Depending on the hot hand and the matchup, the Nationals will mix and match with J.D. Martin (the current fifth starter), and Class AAA Syracuse pitchers Collin Balester, Shairon Martis and Ross Detwiler.

Though Riggleman didn't ensure that Balester, Martis and Detwiler would all join the Nationals when rosters expand, he was ready for the possibility.

"That fifth slot we'll just be monitoring all of them to see where they are with their innings and maybe match up with the ballclub we're facing," Riggleman said. "Do we want a left-hander throwing so we could put Detwiler in there? Do we want a right-hander throwing so it could be Balester or Martis? It gives us an opportunity to play around with that, and the guys who aren't starting could pitch out of the bullpen."

General Manager Mike Rizzo was not willing to name the pitchers who will be called up, but he guaranteed this much: The Nationals will carry more than five starters in September, and they'd like to see all of them start at least a game. "I do believe we'll mix and match," Rizzo said.

Because of numerous off days in September, Riggleman said, a six-man rotation is not a possibility.

Morgan Feeling Better

Nyjer Morgan, who has been battling the flu, was feeling better on Wednesday, but Riggleman held him out of the lineup for the second consecutive game. Morgan will likely start on Thursday afternoon. . . .

First baseman Nick Johnson, traded to Florida on July 31, is back on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring. Class AA Harrisburg pitcher Aaron Thompson, acquired in the Johnson deal, has a 2.78 ERA (22 innings) in four starts since joining the organization.

He has an 0-2 record, but has walked six and struck out 23.

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