Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Today's game against the Mets has been rained out.
[UPDATE AT 12:05 P.M. -- The Nationals' No. 4 starter will be ... Livan Hernandez. Jim Riggleman confirmed that just a little while ago, though it was pretty obvious that would be the case for some time. The final spot will go to either Garrett Mock, Scott Olsen or J.D. Martin. The decision could be made before the club leaves Florida, but it could also be held off until after the season has begun since the fifth starter isn't needed until April 11. Factors that will be taken into consideration, according to Riggleman; Health, performance, track record. Each guy will get to pitch once more this spring, and it's safe to say whoever pitches best will have a leg up on the rest.]
[UPDATE AT 10:12 A.M. -- Today's game has been postponed due to rain. No word yet if it will be made up as a split-squad game tomorrow.]
VIERA, Fla. -- Good morning from rainy Space Coast Stadium. It's been pouring since last night, hasn't let up since and there are serious doubts today's home finale against the Mets will be played. But we're still awaiting official word of that.
If this game is called off, it's going to be tough for the Nationals to make it up. They'd like to schedule a split-squad tomorrow against the Mets, but New York already has split-squad games scheduled today and will want to try to make the other one up tomorrow. So it's not an ideal situation.
We're also awaiting official word of the state of the Nationals starting rotation. Manager Jim Riggleman is meeting right now with GM Mike Rizzo and pitching coach Steve McCatty to discuss different possibilities. Riggleman did confirm earlier this morning that John Lannan, Jason Marquis and Craig Stammen will start the first three games of the season against the Phillies. The rest is yet to be determined.
So what's really going on here? I think it boils down to this: Scott Olsen's strong start yesterday, coupled with Garrett Mock's slight regression over the last couple weeks, has forced the Nationals to reconsider what looked like a pretty set picture not long ago.
Livan Hernandez's presence also throws a bit of a wrench into the situation. Make no mistake, Livo is all but certain to make the club. But because he's on a minor-league contract, the Nats could conceivably push him back to the No. 5 slot and then not need to add him to the roster until April 11. That would buy them some extra time and a chance to keep either an extra bench player or reliever through the season's first five games.
As for the No. 4 slot, it basically comes down to Mock or Olsen. Riggleman and Rizzo had been praising Mock all spring and even lumping him in with Lannan and Marquis as the three sure things about the rotation. So what happened? Well, Mock got hit around a bit in a minor-league start last week, and then Olsen went and looked strong yesterday.
In discussing Mock's situation, Riggleman drew a comparison to the club's recently finalized shortstop situation, with Ian Desmond beating out Cristian Guzman.
"It's not like Guzman isn't playing good, because he is playing good," the manager said. "But Desmond might be the best player in camp this spring. Stammen and Livo have just thrown better than everybody. So it's hard to ignore what they're doing."
Mock, it should be pointed out, has minor-league options. He also makes slightly more than the league minimum ($400,000) and would make a minor-league salary if he's at Class AAA. Olsen is making $1 million if he's on any roster in the Nats organization after Wednesday.
To summarize: This thing is still very much up in the air.
Not up in the air is the possibility of Stephen Strasburg pitching against the Red Sox on Saturday at Nationals Park. Riggleman put to rest any thought of that today, reaffirming what had seemed obvious for a while now. There's just very little to be gained from having Strasburg pitch in that game, aside from the PR value, and that's the last thing the Nats front office is considering when mapping out their prize prospect's development plan.