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Is The Washington Nationals' '09 Starting Rotation Set?

After 3.0 innings pitched this afternoon, Washington right-hander Collin Balester had allowed just 3 hits, 1 walk and 1 ER on a HR by Detroit slugger Gary Sheffield. At that point, I noted somewhat cautiously in the game thread for Balester's big start, that aside from the HR, Balester was responding well to the pressure of an outing that may very well determine where he begins the '09 season, since word is that the 22-year-old Balester is competing with Jordan Zimmermann, also 22, and Shairon Martis, 21, for the fourth and fifth spots in the Nationals' rotation.

Martis had made his most recent start the night before, (Thurs 3/19) throwing 5.0 innings and giving up 2 runs and 2 hits, one of which was a 2-run HR by the Baltimore Orioles' outfielder Nolan Reimhold. Zimmermann pitched earlier this week, coming on in the second on Monday (3/16) against the Florida Marlins after Shawn Hill (who was subsequently released) had successfully returned to the mound after another injury scare. Zimmermann followed Hill with 4.0 scoreless in which he surrendered just 2 hits and collected 6 K's to leave him (1-0) with a 0.00 ERA after 12.1 IP in 2 starts and 2 relief appearances this Spring in which he's struck out 16 while allowing just 6 hits. Martis ended the night Thursday with no decisions (0-0) after 4 appearances (2GS) and 13.0 IP over which he'd given up just 7 hits, 3 runs and 3 walks, with 7 K's collected. 

Collin Balester entered play today with a (1-0) record and a 6.55 ERA after having given up 2 hits and 3 walks in 3.0 scoreless last Sunday(3/15), and he seemed well on his way to another successful outing after three innings this afternoon, but then it all fell apart. I noted in the game thread here at as we were scoreboard watching, since no one was broadcasting the game, that the, "Box has stalled in the 4th." ROSCOEtheNATSfan, in response to my comment noted, "Normally a bad sign. It usually coincides with a big inning with substitutions." And just then I received a message from Florida...and told ROSCOE, "Now I know why..."

Dave from the Nats News Network, who has been crisscrossing Florida all week with extensive Spring Training coverage, was texting from the game, and just moments after having sent word that Balester had settled down after a shaky first, he was writing again to report:

"Of course I say that [Balester had settled down] and the wheels fall off in the 4th. Hasn't been hit real hard here, but they are getting through. 4 earned on 6 hits, all singles, in the 4th. No walks, which is good."

Balester's final line: (L, 1-1), 4.0 IP, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K's, 1 HR, 7.80 ERA. 

Washington Post writer Chico Harlan started his Nationals Journal post game report entitled, "Another Rough Start For Balester", by writing that Balester might want to invest in some warm clothing, "...because it's cold in Syracuse. Even in April," and Mr. Harlan reported that in the fourth inning today, "You saw all the telltale problems: He was unable to work the count or locate his pitches...(and)...The Tigers were smacking the ball." writer Bill Ladson, in his article entitled, "Balester has up and down day", writes that Balester, "...ended up having another shaky outing," and as a result of yet another such start, Mr. Ladson predicts that, "The way things are going for him right now, Balester will most likely start the season with Triple-A Syracuse."

Washington Times' writer Mark Zuckerman started the day pointing out that Balester, "...would need a strong outing against the Tigers to stay in the race for a rotation spot," and after what Mr. Zuckerman describes as "four laborious innings", he had joined the other DC writers in calling the winners of the battle for the final two spots in the Nationals' starting rotation, writing:

"Balester's spring ERA now stands at 7.80. He's now allowed 20 hits and seven walks in 15 innings. Compare that to Jordan Zimmermann (0.00 ERA) and Shairon Martis (2.08 ERA) and it would appear this competition is all but over."

Is it over? That would leave John Lannan, Daniel Cabrera, Scott Olsen, Shairon Martis and Jordan Zimmermann (unless Jason Bergmann's still under consideration as a SP) as the Nationals' '09 rotation...Anyone who didn't see this coming, if it is indeed decided, need only look back to Washington Post writer Chico Harlan's 3/4/09 Nationals Journal post entitled, "Up For Grabs", where the DC Manager Manny Acta laughed off the idea that Collin Balester had an upperhand on Martis and Zimmermann in the race for the rotation because of his experience at the Major League level last season, by asking:

"'What's big league experience? A 5.00 something ERA? That doesn't give you a head start on anybody. It's wide open."

Balester seemed to be aware of his situation when he talked to's Bill Ladson, in the article I quoted earlier entitled, "Balester has up and down day", telling Mr. Ladson:

"'It's this thing where five [starters] are pitching great [this spring]. I'm happy for those guys,' Balester said. 'Every one goes through tough times. I don't wish anything bad on anyone. But I'm just going to work hard and get out of this funk.'"

If all these reports today are right, Balester will have to work out his troubles as a Chiefs' starter with the Nationals' Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse. DC Manager Manny Acta, without saying any decision on the rotation had been made, told Mr. Ladson in the same article, "I'm not concerned about Balester at all...there is nothing to be alarmed about. He (Balester) is still a young guy." Even if he does start the season with Syracuse, Balester's first start of the year will only be his 41st at the Triple-A level, and at just 22-years-old, with a taste of the majors in 15 MLB starts, and the sting of losing out in a battle for a spot in the Washington rotation, who's going to be more motivated to prove he belongs in DC than Collin Balester?


Saturday afternoon, at 1:05 pm EST live from Space Coast, the Washington Nationals take on the St. Louis Cardinals with Jordan Zimmermann on the mound for DC against the Cards' Kyle Lohse. I'll be following along on the radio all afternoon is anyone's listening...

Johnson And Kearns?'s Bill Ladson reported on his blog today, in a post entitled, "Tidbits about Nats", that "an opposing scout" revealed that the Nationals, "...are trying to trade first baseman Nick Johnson and outfielder Austin Kearns, but doubts they will be dealt."