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Washington Nationals’ fifth starter battle one of a few big questions for Nats this Spring

Who would will end up filling out the back of the Nationals’ starting rotation?

MLB: Washington Nationals-Workouts Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

One of the Washington Nationals’ few true Spring Training battles this year involves the fifth spot in the rotation behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Aníbal Sánchez.

Erick Fedde, Joe Ross, and Austin Voth are in camp competing for the final spot, and their remaining options could clearly play a role, with Fedde (who recently discovered he has a rare 4th option), the only one of the three who can be sent down if he isn’t the choice to fill out the starting staff.

So will the obvious scenario play out? Ross or Voth in the rotation or bullpen and Fedde down to Double (if the Nationals want to keep him close by) or Triple-A?

While the defending World Series champions focused on bolstering their bullpen corps this winter, after a dismal start to the season from the relievers they had last year, GM Mike Rizzo said at the Winter Meetings in December that he was happy with the in-house options the club had for the starting rotation, telling reporters, including MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, that manager Davey Martinez could go several ways.

“I think we have a very good confidence with our starting rotation. We think we go deep,” Rizzo explained.

“We’ve got seven or eight deep in the rotation, which we like. And a couple of them have options, which is important.”

“I think we’re more than satisfied with our rotation. And with the other holes we have to fill, I think that’s less of a priority.”

After watching his pitchers throw early bullpen sessions in Spring Training, Martinez said the same.

“Right now we’ve got quite a few guys, three in particular, that are vying for that spot, so it’s all about consistency right now, what we see.

“Joe looks good. Fedde threw the ball well. Voth looked really good, and he left last year with a sore shoulder, but he said he’s good to go, so we’ll see what transpires this Spring.”

Martinez was asked about Ross in particular, and what sort of expectations he had for the 26-year-old right-hander who is in his second full season back following Tommy John surgery.

“As we all know,” Martinez said, “... the injury has slowed him down, but I’ve always felt like those guys that have Tommy John, it takes — like this Spring for me was the Spring where I thought he’ll be back to the Joe Ross that we saw early in his career, and so far he looks like that guy. The ball is coming out really well. I know he’s working on different things with his mechanics, and repeating his delivery, so I look at Joe doing big things for us this year.”

Ross moved between the bullpen and rotation and the minors and majors last season, with a 4.28 ERA, a 3.75 FIP, eight walks (1.80 BB/9), and 32 Ks (7.20 K/9) in eight starts and 40 IP at Triple-A Fresno and a 3.02 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 22 walks (4.43 K/9), and 38 Ks (7.66 K/9) in 44 2⁄3 IP in his major league starts.

After all the movement back and forth between roles last season, Martinez was clear toward the end of the year that the Nationals still see Ross as a starter going forward.

“He’s going to be a starter for us in the future,” the manager said. “The biggest thing is to really keep him healthy moving forward.”

“I love his stuff,” Martinez added, “and I think he’s starting to figure out his true identity and how he wants to attack hitters, which is really nice.”

Asked what he’s seen from Ross early this Spring, Martinez noted this week that he like the short arm swing in the pitcher’s delivery.

“Very short,” he qualified. “Right now he says he feels good. I know Paul [Menhart] and [I], we’ll watch him and we talked about it, and there’s a whole lot of deception in there, and the ball just — all of a sudden it’s on you. Some of the catchers that caught him, they’re saying, ‘Wow, all of a sudden he lets it go and the ball is there.’ And it’s kind of nice, but we’ll see if he can take that into the game, and see how he feels.”

Fedde told MASN’s Zuckerman that he understands the reality of his situation this Spring with an option remaining, and Voth told Washington Post writer Jesse Dougherty that he knows he has to prove his value not that he’s out of options. How will things shake out over the next few weeks? Any dark horse candidates you think will try to force their way into the mix? Don’t say Jeremy Hellickson, he retired.