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The fifth starter dilemma

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VIERA, Fla. — Tom Gorzelanny allowed one run through four innings Tuesday night; Chad Gaudin tossed six impressive frames of shutout baseball in a minor league game the same afternoon and Ross Detwiler will start for the Nationals today, hoping to improve on his already strong spring.

And then there’s Yunesky Maya, who’s allowed just one earned run — a homer — in 8.2 innings himself.

The competition for the Nationals fifth rotation spot is getting tougher each day and though Gorzelanny would have to completely implode in the next two weeks in order to be knocked off the top spot, it’s a good dilemma for the Nationals to have.

“They’re all throwing the ball very well,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman after his team’s 5-2 loss to the Mets Tuesday night. “Somewhere along the line we’ll have to make a call on that, but nobody is pitching themselves off the club.”

Based on this spring’s performance alone, Gorzelanny wouldn’t be at the top of the list. He didn’t make his first start until last week after an illness hampered him in the early going, he then struggled through that outing, unable to make it through three innings, and while he was better Tuesday night, he labored in the third and fourth innings and allowed the game-tying run in the latter.

He did escape a jam in the fourth, allowing just the one run, and appeared to have good movement on his pitches.

But the job will not be decided solely on spring performance. The Nationals gave up three prospects this offseason in order to bring the left-hander, who is out of options, to Washington as a member of their rotation. Maya (two) and Detwiler (one) have options remaining and Gaudin is a non-roster invitee they could consider stashing in the bullpen as a long reliever.

The numbers, in that case, fall in Gorzelanny’s favor. And any doubts the Nationals had about his viability as the fifth starter after his first outing were likely placated some after Tuesday night.

The Nationals are playing at 1:05 this afternoon in Kissimmee against Houston.

Here’s the Nationals’ lineup today:

Nyjer Morgan CF
Alex Cora SS
Jayson Werth RF
Matt Stairs 1B
Michael Morse LF
Wilson Ramos C
Brian Bixler 3B
Alberto Gonzalez 2B
Ross Detwiler P

Michael Morse is back in the lineup and said last night that he’d be fine to go today. His stomach was upset last night, just before the first pitch, due to a reaction from medicine he was taking for an abscessed tooth.

Danny Espinosa told reporters in Viera this morning that his foot “feels like it never got hit.”

Other pitchers scheduled to throw:
Sean Burnett

Doug Slaten
Tyler Clippard
Cole Kimball

Also, Livan Hernandez will throw in a minor league game today.

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