As Opening Day approaches, the Washington Nationals have a few tough decisions ahead of them before the regular season begins on April 3.
One thing that is for certain, however, are the five pitchers that will be making up the team’s starting rotation.
Stephen Strasburg has already received the nod for Opening Day.
Max Scherzer will start a few days later after a small setback with a finger injury.
Tanner Roark had a strong outing against Japan in the World Baseball Classic and will look to carry that success over into the regular season.
Gio Gonzalez had an up-and-down year last year but will be an integral part of the rotation as the team’s only lefty.
Rounding out the group is 23-year-old right-hander Joe Ross, who is embarking on his third season after posting a 3.43 ERA with 93 strikeouts over 19 starts in 2016.
Ross was limited to just 105 innings on the year by right shoulder inflammation that kept him on the Disabled List for two and a half months.
When he’s been on the mound, Ross has shown the promise of a future front-line starter.
A former Top 100 prospect (ESPN Insider subscription required), he has the potential for a great career.
With last season marking the most mileage he’s ever put on his arm at the major league level, however, Ross could lose his place in the rotation if he finds himself on the shelf once again.
Washington’s No. 2 prospect Erick Fedde has had a strong Spring Training and is knocking at the door of the big leagues.
Fedde’s put together a 3.29 ERA and 0.95 WHIP — allowing a runner to score in just one of his five appearances.
He’s now three years removed from the Tommy John surgery that allowed him to slip down to the Nationals at No. 18 overall in the 2014 amateur draft.
Fedde remains in major league camp for now, but it appears to be a foregone conclusion that the team will break camp with Ross as the No. 5 starter.
While Fedde has the higher ceiling at this point in their careers, Ross has established himself as a capable starter when healthy.
If Fedde continues to excel in the minors, he’ll undoubtedly make his major league debut at some point this season.
Depending on how he performs in a Nationals uniform, manager Dusty Baker will have a tough decision on his hands midseason — especially if the injury bug bites Ross once again.