Washington Nationals: Competition And Depth In The Starting Rotation.

Asked about what he expected from Yunesky Maya in 2011 after a less-than-stellar start to his Major League career last September, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo, in an interview last Friday, said that the 29-year-old right-hander's rush through the system for a late-season debut, "probably wasn't the best way to handle," the beginning of the Cuban-born starter's career, but after a strong showing in the Liga de Beisbol Dominicano in which Maya was named the DWL Pitcher of the Year, the Nats' general manager remained positive heading into Spring Training, and said the team's scouting reports hadn't changed: 

Mike Rizzo: "We assess him going into Spring Training as we saw him at the time that we signed him. We think that he's a very capable starting pitcher in the major leagues. He was the no.1 starter on a really good Cuban national club [and] has proven that he can compete at the highest level."

On Tuesday the Nats' GM acquired Chicago Cubs' left-hander Tom Gorzelanny in a trade for prospects Michael Burgess, A.J. Morris and Graham Hicks. On Wednesday night as reported by NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman in an article entitled, "Rizzo on Gorzelanny, Hairston", Mr. Rizzo said that the team's talent evaluators who'd scouted the 28-year-old, 6-year veteran who'd worked out of the pen at times in the last two seasons, saw him challenging for a spot in the starting rotation. Chien-Ming Wang, who signed as a free agent this winter after rehabbing on a 1-year/$2M dollar deal last year with Washington, is reportedly throwing off a mound out in Arizona and as the general manager put it, "not in rehabilitation mode" but in, "preparation mode to get ready for spring training." Ross Detwiler, in a recent interview with Nationals 360's Byron Kerr and Francis Rose, said that he's, "feeling like he's going to go into camp 100%," after surgery on his hip cost him a good part of the 2010 season and left him uncomfortable even when he returned. 

Jordan Zimmermann's coming back healthy for the start of Spring Training. Livan Hernandez is under contract and expected to be part of the rotation. Jason Marquis returned from elbow surgery to make ten starts in August and September, and he should be 100% when pitchers and catchers report. In John Lannan's (6-3) second-half, after he'd struggled in the first half and been sent down to Double-A, he looked more like the stalwart starter he'd been while giving the Nats 182.0 and 206.1 innings in the previous two seasons. Assuming these four are going to be part of the Opening Day rotation, there's going to be serious competition for the fifth spot on the Opening Day roster. 

The Nationals used a total of 14 starters last season, however, so while the Spring Training battle for the rotation will be entertaining, what's important in the Nats' GM mind is the depth the team's added to the rotation, as he explained to reporters last night, as recounted again by NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman, "We're going to have a good competition there this spring, and we're looking forward to it," Mr. Rizzo said, before explaining at another point, "Certainly depth and competition for a starting rotation spot is what we were after."

Is the competition coming out of Spring Training only for the fifth spot behind Zimmermann, Livan, Marquis and Lannan? Does the acquisition of Gorzelanny settle the fifth spot or can Detwiler, Maya, Wang or another starter like Garrett Mock or Craig Stammen crack the rotation. J.D. Martin was eliminated from the competition yesterday, as the Nats announced yesterday (@NatsTownNews) that the 28-year-old right-hander had been given his unconditional release. The voluntary Spring Training reporting date for pitchers, catchers and injured players is February 14th. Who's going to make the Opening Day rotation? In an interview this morning on Sirius/XM's MLB Network Radio show "First Pitch" this morning, Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman gave a hint who he thinks will be the Opening Day starter:

Jim Riggleman: "I was asked that, and it was kind of presented to me in a manner of 'I guess Livo [LIvan Hernandez] will be your Opening Day starter?', and I certainly wouldn't deny that, you know, because, out of the respect for what he's accomplished, he was our best pitcher last year, he's a veteran guy and in some ways that Opening Day is as much [about] who can handle that particular day, the build-up to that day and the big crowd and all that, I would be surprised if it's not Livo, I guess I'll leave it at that." 

• More from the interview this afternoon...

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