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Starters set for first four Nationals spring training games

Thursday, February 24, 2011; D05

Lannan, Marquis join rotation for the spring

Manager Jim Riggleman set the Nationals' starters for their third and fourth spring training games, deciding on John Lannan and Jason Marquis to follow Chad Gaudin and Livan Hernandez.

Though Hernandez has received the opening day designation, Riggleman cautioned not to read too much into Lannan and Marquis following him.

The Nationals will have two off days in the first five days of the season, which will allow the Nationals to adjust if they need to or want to.

"Two of them that quickly kind of makes the scheduling for how you're going to put your starting pitching out there, there's five different scenarios you can use," Riggleman said. "We'll determine that much later in the spring."

The days off also mean the Nationals could choose to carry four starters on their roster until they need a fifth, which would allow them to use an extra reliever or bench player for the season's first week or so.

"That's one of the scenarios," Riggleman said. "That's a possibility."

That being said, it would make sense for the Nationals to follow Hernandez in the rotation with Lannan and Marquis. The Nationals will use match-ups to determine their rotation, which means they may want Jordan Zimmermann to start the fourth game of the season in Florida, where he dominated in one start last season. Lannan would then split up Hernandez and Marquis, two right-handers who rely on sinking fastballs.

Harper is ranked No. 1

Baseball America named outfielder Bryce Harper the top prospect in baseball and included three other Nationals on their annual list of the game's top 100 prospects. The magazine, a leading authority on the minor leagues, also rated catcher Derek Norris 72nd, second baseman Danny Espinosa 66th and catcher Wilson Ramos 96th.

The Nationals last year placed three players on Baseball America's top 100. Stephen Strasburg ranked second, Norris 38th and Drew Storen 92nd. Ramos, then with the Minnesota Twins, ranked 58th last year.

The Royals led all teams with nine prospects on the list.

Only three other teams - the Rays, Braves and Yankees - had more than four prospects make the top 100.

The Blue Jays, Phillies, Reds, Indians and Twins also had four players on the list.

Relief is on the way

After experiencing visa delays that prevented them from joining the Nationals at spring training, rocket-armed relievers Elvin Ramirez and Henry Rodriguez are set to arrive in Viera by tomorrow, a team source said.

The Nationals acquired Rodriguez, 23, in the trade that sent left fielder Josh Willingham to the Oakland A's. Rodriguez, equipped with a fastball that touched 103.8 mph in a major league game last year, has one of the strongest arms in baseball.

He struck out 33 batters in 272/3 major league innings last year; however, he also walked 13.

- Adam Kilgore

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