VIERA, Fla. -- Plenty of news nuggets to share as the Nationals prepare to host the Cardinals tonight at Space Coast Stadium, so let's get right to them...
-- Stephen Strasburg obviously starts tonight, and I detailed yesterday why this figures to be his final appearance in a big-league game this spring, but here's more evidence of that likelihood: Livan Hernandez will start Wednesday against the Yankees in Tampa. Hernandez has been pitching on the same day as Strasburg all spring and this morning allowed three hits over four innings in a minor-league game. As manager Jim Riggleman pointed out, Livo needs to start facing major-league hitters and be stretched out over five-plus innings. So he gets the nod next week against the Yankees. What does that mean for Strasburg? Well, Riggleman, Mike Rizzo and other front office members plan to meet tomorrow morning to discuss the next round of cuts, which are expected to start taking place Monday. What does that mean for Strasburg? "That'll be one of the discussions we have, for sure," Riggleman said.
-- Scott Olsen pitched in a minor-league game yesterday, and though his surgically repaired left shoulder experienced no pain, his velocity still isn't all the way back where he or the club would like. Olsen's fastball was in the 86 mph range. He's yet to hit 90 mph this spring, probably the best sign of his full recovery. With 17 days to go before Opening Day, is there a chance Olsen won't be ready for the regular season? "Yeah, I think that's possible," Riggleman said. "But he does have at least two more starts. I'm going on the assumption that he keeps making progress. Because he's got time, I'm going on the assumption that we'll see enough in that arm that he and we feel he's ready."
-- Ian Desmond is starting at shortstop tonight, but Cristian Guzman will start tomorrow against the Marlins. This remains one of this camp's most-pressing storylines, and Riggleman admitted today this is an "open competition" between the two. "They're both such good offensive players," the manager said. "I've been finagling a way around, trying to find a way to get both playing time. At this point, we've two weeks to go, we've been playing games for a couple weeks. I don't want to get too ahead of myself, get too excited about two weeks of baseball. But Desmond has played great. Guzie's missed a lot of days. But as soon as he came back, he's hitting line drives all over the place. They're both playing very good." One key to watch in the coming days: The Nats want to see Guzman have to go to his right to pick up a grounder in the hole and then cut loose with a throw to first base. He hasn't had to do that yet, but it's an important test of his surgically repaired shoulder.
-- Willie Harris is starting in right field tonight, and though he'll split at-bats out there with Mike Morse and Justin Maxwell the rest of the spring, it sounds like he's going to be the guy starting out there on Opening Day against the Phillies. This is a product more of the guy Philadelphia will be throwing that day: Roy Halladay. Riggleman prefers a left-handed bat against the Phillies' new right-handed ace, and Harris fits the bill. If Cole Hamels starts Game 2 as expected, Morse or Maxwell could very well start that game. But it will be a challenge for Riggleman to get all three guys at-bats the rest of the spring, and I wouldn't be surprised if he narrows it down to only two of them soon to make sure they're both ready when the green light comes on April 5.
Some minor injury updates...
-- Nyjer Morgan is again out of the lineup, still nursing a tight right hamstring. Morgan said he could play today, and Riggleman wanted him to, but the club's training staff didn't want to push it, and the manager said it'll be "at least Monday" before Morgan does return to the lineup. "I feel fine," he said. "I was hoping I could be out there [tonight] but they just didn't want to rush it." Morgan said there's no pull or strain, only tightness.
-- Adam Dunn is back in the lineup tonight after missing one game with back spasms. Everything appears to be fine.
-- Josh Willingham was supposed to start tonight, but he's got some minor neck stiffness, so he's sitting this one out. Not believed to be anything serious.