It’s obvious that the Nationals’ rotation will be comprised of Livan Hernandez first and then some order of John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Jordan Zimmermann and Tom Gorzelanny. That order, though, remains up in the air.

“After Livo, we’re still tossing around a couple ways we could go,” Manager Jim Riggleman said. He indicated he wants to break up Gorzelanny and Lannan, the two left-handed starters in the rotation.

The order could be determined by how the Nationals manipulate their early off days. Last year, you may recall, the Nationals kept Livan Hernandez off the roster until the sixth game of the year, activating him only when they needed him in order to keep an extra reliever on hand. This year, the Nationals have two off days early and could do something.

However, Gorzelanny, the projected fifth starter, is out of options, so he could not be the pitcher the Nationals stash on a minor-league roster for a few days. Both Lannan and Zimmermann do have options, so they could become the de facto fifth starter. This conversation could all be moot – it’s not really worth burning an option for one of those pitchers to pull this off, and last year the results were sketchy. Relievers were on edge about getting sent out and rusty because there were eight of them scrapping for innings.

(John McDonnell)
>>> Ryan Zimmerman will likely return Friday from the groin ailment that’s kept him out of the lineup, Riggleman said. The Nationals will have just five games remaining at that point, and Riggleman would play him in four of them. Zimmerman will miss his eighth straight game today. He started taking batting practice two days ago, and today he’s fielding grounders.

>>> Riggleman said yesterday’s game did nothing to alter his feeling about the center field competition between Nyjer Morgan, Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina. The prevailing sense among baseball people outside the organization is that Ankiel will win the job. But internally, the Nationals have been impressed with subtle improvements Morgan has made. Since starting spring 1 for 16, Morgan has a .447 on-base percentage. (As always, the disclaimer is that’s important not to read too much into spring stats.)

“I like the competition,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “I feel like we’ve got capable candidates out there. We’ll be comfortable with whoever we choose out there. They all bring a different skill set to the position. I do think it’s still an open competition.”

>>> Rizzo was asked if he could foresee a scenario in which Drew Storen would begin the season somewhere other than the majors. Rizzo did not give a specific answer, but he seemed to leave the door open.

“You’re talking in generalities and possibilities,” Rizzo said. “We’ve got eight games left. We’re going to see what happens on the field. There’s going to be competition for the job. We have several different scenarios that could play out.”

Riggleman reiterated the Nationals will start the year with a closer-by-committee approach for the ninth inning. Sean Burnett has clearly been the best of the candidates, having yet to allow a run or a walk this spring, and he was also their best reliever last year, posting a 2.14 ERA.

Still, Riggleman said he may need to use Burnett in an earlier high-leverage situation in order to preserve a lead in the seventh or eighth inning. That’s the advantage of the strategy – Riggleman has more flexibility to use his relievers in specific situations rather than being married to one pitcher in the ninth. Riggleman also expressed confidence in Todd Coffey as a possibility to close games, saying his strike-throwing approach is suits the ninth inning well.

“We’ve got guys with enough stuff to pitch the ninth inning,” Rizzo said. “We’ve got guys with poise and confidence to pitch the ninth inning. Someone is going to take the job and run with it.”

>>> Rule 5 pick Elvin Ramirez, hampered all spring by a sore shoulder, is throwing long toss and should begin throwing light bullpens “soon,” Rizzo said. It looks like Ramirez could begin the season on the disabled list, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing for the Nationals. It would buy the Nationals more time to decide if they want to carry him on their 25-man roster, work out a trade with the Mets or send him back to the Mets.