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No. 5 Starter Watch: Nationals (!)

I'm sorry I don't have a conclusion to this gripping story, but you know what Clark Griswold says: "Getting there is half the fun."

    The Nationals this morning whittled their choices for their fifth starter down to Garrett Mock and Scott Olsen when they optioned J.D. Martin to Class AAA Syracuse. Martin pitched in just three big league games this spring, receiving most of his experience on back fields in minor league intrasquad games.

    --snip--

    That's the thing about the fifth-starter decision. Whether it's Mock or Olsen -- and Mock is the better bet at this point, based on what I'm hearing -- that may not matter for long. Martin, Matt Chico, Shairon Martis, Aaron Thompson and all the other starters who vied for a spot this spring remain in the system.

    The job will "absolutely" still be up for competition, Riggleman said, even as the year proceeds. Part of that is the fact that neither Mock nor Olsen has claimed the position with certitude. "Nobody's won the job," Riggleman said. "Somebody is going to get the job. But nobody has won the job."

    Once May arrives, the fifth starter will have to compete with far more than those who couldn't win a job out of spring. Chien-Ming Wang will be ready to come off his rehab. Ross Detwiler could be ready. By June, Stephen Strasburg will be entering the competition. The rotation by August could look like this:

    1. John Lannan

    2. Jason Marquis

    3. Stephen Strasburg

    4. Chien-Ming Wang

    5. Ross Detwiler

    Or not. The cavalry is coming, but the cavalry can't be counted upon. Wang is coming off surgery and is no sure thing. Detwiler has pitched more than six innings once in his 15 career starts, and he's never had to deal with rehabbing from hip surgery at the outset of spring. By late August, I'll be writing about when the Nationals will shut down Strasburg because he's reaching his innings limit.

Funny thing about this piece: the headline reads, The importance of the fifth starter ... maybe that's supposed to be sarcastic? Because it's pretty obvious that the Nationals are going to cycle through a bunch of fifth starters this season, plus they're going to finish last so it really doesn't matter.

For the record, though ... Garrett Mock turns 27 in a few weeks. In 18 starts with the Nationals, he's 3-11 with a 5.69 ERA. In his defense, 1) he's pitched somewhat better than those numbers suggest, and 2) his Triple-A performance has actually been real good. It's too bad he doesn't throw harder, but then nobody's perfect. If I'm running the Nationals, I'm happy with Mock as a place-holder. Same with Olsen, who's a year younger than Mock and actually has two good major-league seasons (out of four total) on his résumé. Sure, Olsen's recovering from a torn labrum and he's not been the very best of citizens. But like I said, nobody's perfect.

I'll bet there are plenty of innings to go around this season. Let's pull for all these guys. They're going to need as much help as they can get.