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Nationals Top 5 Spring Training Storylines: Fifth Starter?

Will Ross Detwiler claim the fifth spot in Washington's rotation this spring? Can any of the other starters the Nationals have in Spring Training knock the '07 1st Round pick out of the rotation and into the bullpen? Nathan Karns, Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf?

Drew Hallowell

While the Washington Nationals remain open to the possibility of strengthening a strength and adding to their roster if they can find some value on the market at this late date, even as's Jon Heyman was bringing up the possibility of the Nationals making a run at A.J. Burnett yesterday, he wrote that a "person with a Nats connection" told him, "...they'd 'most likely' stick with their current rotation unless a 'value' materialized."

"The first four, the top four, we can go up against any rotation, anywhere..." - Ross Detwiler on the Nationals' 2014 rotation

So barring any more additions, injuries, setbacks, etc., the starting rotation in 2014 will feature Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and either Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf or Nathan Karns.

GM Mike Rizzo added another name to that list when he spoke to 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier in early December, explaining that Detwiler was probably the frontrunner for the fifth spot, and, "when healthy, is a very capable major league starting pitcher," but after an injury-shortened season in 2013 in which he dealt with oblique and disc injuries in his back, the 28-year-old, '07 1st Round pick is, "... going to go out there in Spring Training and compete with [Tanner] Roark and Taylor Jordan, Nathan Karns, Sam Solis and then the next wave of minor league players coming up."

Most of the talk involving Solis, 25, has been about the 2010 2nd Round pick potentially working out of the bullpen if the Nats need another left-hander, however.

As for the other candidates for the fifth spot in the Nationals' rotation?

"I'd love to be the fifth starter, but if I can make the team out of Spring Training, that would be great to help the team out any way I can." - Tanner Roark to reporters at NatsFest

Tanner Roark, 27, put together a breakthrough campaign with the Nationals last season, making his MLB debut and putting up a (7-1) record with a 1.51 ERA, 2.41 FIP, 1 HR (0.17 HR/9) and 11 walks (1.84 BB/9) allowed and 40 Ks (6.71 K/9) collected in 14 outings, five of them as a starter and 53 2/3 IP over which he was worth +1.4 fWAR. Roark said recently, at NatsFest, that he's looking forward to competing for a spot in the rotation. "I'd love to be the fifth starter," he told reporters, "but if I can make the team out of Spring Training, that would be great to help the team out any way I can."

Taylor Jordan, 25, worked his way up from High-A Potomac, where the right-hander was (2-1) with a 1.24 ERA, 2.46 FIP, six walks (1.49 BB/9), one HR allowed (0.25 HR/9) and 29 Ks (7.18 K/9) collected in 36 1/3 IP, to Double-A Harrisburg in the Nats' system where he was (7-0) with a 0.83 ERA, 2.39 FIP, nine walks (1.50 BB/9), 0 HRs allowed and 43 Ks (7.17 K/9) collected in 54 IP, to the majors, where the '09 9th Round pick was (1-3) with a 3.66 ERA, a 3.49 FIP, 11 walks (1.92 BB/9), three home runs allowed (0.52 HR/9) and 29 Ks (5.05 K/9) in 51 2/3 IP over which he was worth +0.7 fWAR.

"I don't think he knows how good his stuff is yet," Davey Johnson said last summer before Jordan's run ended in August in his first full season back following Tommy John surgery.

Ross Ohlendorf, 30, got a 1-year/$1.25M deal from the Nationals after a 2013 campaign which saw the veteran right-hander go (4-5) with a 4.27 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 30 walks (3.77 BB/9), 67 Ks (8.41 K/9) and five home runs surrendered (0.60 HR/9) in 13 games, 12 starts and 71 2/3 IP at Triple-A Syracuse and (4-1) with a 3.28 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 14 walks (2.09 BB/9) and 45 Ks (6.71 K/9) in 60 1/3 IP over which he gave up eight home runs (1.19 HR/9) and finished at +0.3 fWAR in the majors.

"I learned last year how to just be flexible. I feel like I was able to help the team a lot in having that flexibility." - Ross Ohlendorf on his 2013 campaign

Like Roark, who posted a 1.19 ERA in 22 2/3 IP in the majors as a reliever, holding the opposition to a .180/.247/.195 line when he worked out of the bullpen, Ohlendorf split his time between the rotation and relief work in 2013 and he told reporters in an interview last month that he was comfortable in either role after performing well in both last season. "I learned last year how to just be flexible," the veteran of seven major league seasons explained. "I feel like I was able to help the team a lot in having that flexibility. So I'm looking forward to being able to help in that way."

Nathan Karns, 26, started his third season in the Nationals' system after he was drafted in the 12th Round in 2009, at Double-A Harrisburg, where he was (10-6) with a 3.26 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 48 walks (3.26 BB/9), 155 Ks (10.52 K/9) and 14 HRs allowed (0.95 HR/9) in 132 1/3 IP on the season with a run in the majors interrupting his campaign. In three starts with the Nats, the right-hander was (0-1) with a 7.50 ERA, an 8.38 FIP, six walks (4.50 BB/9), 11 Ks (8.25 K/9) and five home runs (3.75 HR/9) allowed in 12 IP.

"He's 93-96 on his fastball and he's got a good spiked curve ball and a good feel for the change," Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Mr.'s Kushner and Rouhier in another interview last summer. In what was a tough spot, making his major league debut in an emergency start, Karns showed enough to impress the Nationals' general manager. "He handled himself well," Rizzo said. "You could see the stuff is there and he'll be one of the guys that we'll count on down the road in the future."

Standing in the way of Karns, Ohlendorf, Jordan and Roark, however, is Ross Detwiler, who told reporters last month that he was 100% recovered from last season's back issues and ready to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Detwiler made just 13 starts for the Nationals in 2013, going (2-7) with a 4.04 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 14 walks (1.77 BB/9), 39 Ks (4.92 K/9) and five home runs allowed (0.63 HR/9) in 71 1/3 IP over which he was worth +0.9 fWAR after a 2012 campaign in which the left-hander was (10-8) with a 3.40 ERA, 4.04 FIP, 52 walks (2.85 BB/9) and 105 Ks (5.75 K/9) in 33 games, 27 starts and 164 1/3 IP over which he allowed 15 HRs (0.82 HR/9) and finished +1.6 fWAR.

After a breakthrough season for the 2012 Division Champs, Detwiler learned an important lesson in a disappointing 2013 campaign.

"When not to push it," was the lesson Detwiler explained. "I think every injury is going to be different, but I'm not going to try to push through like I did last year."

Detwiler also said he had no problem earning the fifth spot in the rotation as he's done before in Spring Training. "I've done it every single year so it's nothing different for me," he told reporters. "I've never had just a spot given to me. It's always kind of been just up for grabs and I've won it in the past and think I can do it again if I stay healthy and throw well."

The fight for the fifth spot will start when pitchers and catchers report on February 13th.