Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Craig Stammen starts tonight, but what happens after that?
You see, it's Stammen who would otherwise be lined up to start Tuesday against the Marlins. But if Strasburg's ready to go that day, Stammen obviously gets bumped. It wouldn't matter if Craig throws a no-hitter tonight against the Diamondbacks. Nobody bumps Strasburg.
Which isn't to say Stammen is guaranteed to lose a spot in the rotation. Certainly, he's pitched well enough at times to deserve more opportunities; he's got a 2.60 ERA over his last three starts. But something's got to give when Strasburg returns, and that's only going to force the first of several tough decisions for Jim Riggleman, Mike Rizzo and Steve McCatty in the next couple of weeks as some high-profile starters return (or, in one case, arrive).
Jason Marquis is healthy again and ready to come off the DL. Jordan Zimmermann probably is ready, too, but the Nats are going to stick with the cautious route and have him make at least three and possibly four starts at Class AAA Syracuse before bringing him back. And Yunesky Maya, currently headed to the Gulf Coast League to begin his American baseball career, expects to pitch in the big leagues in the next month.
The Nationals need to get a good look at all three of those guys before season's end. Marquis, of course, is signed for another $7.5 million in 2011. The Nats need to know if he's going to be OK so they can figure out how he fits into next year's rotation. Zimmermann projects to be the club's No. 2 starter behind Strasburg, but he hasn't faced a big-league hitter since July 2009 and needs to get his feet wet again this season before making his full-fledged return next spring. And the Nationals just signed Maya to a four-year, $6 million, major-league contract because they believe he can help this club in the immediate future.
So where do they find the rotation spots for all of these arms, plus the guys currently on the staff? Ross Detwiler needs to continue to pitch in the majors so the Nats can find out if he's part of next year's plan or not. Stammen would seem to fall into the same category, though the Nats have talked in the past about using him as a long reliever; they could give that a try now. Scott Olsen has been pretty good when healthy. John Lannan needs a chance to establish who he really is: the reliable workhorse of 2008-09 or the struggling lefty of 2010. Livan Hernandez has been this club's best starter all season. He's not getting the boot.
Someone, of course, has to be the odd man out. Actually, several guys need to be the odd men out. These are not going to be easy decisions for Riggleman, McCatty and Rizzo. They've got to strike a balance between putting pitchers out there who give the Nats a chance to win the rest of this season while also doing what's best for the franchise long-term.
What do you think? If you had to pick five starters right now to finish out the season, who would they be?