Mar 19, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
We have reached the home stretch of spring training. There are nine days left before the Nationals break camp and head north for good. Which means it’s just about time to make those final roster decisions that have been looming all spring.
I’m heading back to Viera myself this morning and (hopefully) will be on-site at Space Coast Stadium well before tonight’s 6:05 p.m. ballgame against the Astros. While I’m en route, here’s a look at what the Nats must accomplish over the next nine days…
1. Is Doug Fister good to go?
The right-hander hasn’t pitched in a Grapefruit League game since March 2, after which he experienced elbow pain. But he has slowly worked his way back since then, with no major issues. Fister, who was diagnosed with elbow inflammation and no structural damage, played catch on flat ground for three straight days, threw off a bullpen mound and then pitched two innings in a minor-league game on Monday. He should be ready now to start a big-league game, perhaps Saturday against the Marlins or Sunday against the Mets. If that goes well, there’s every reason to believe Fister will be ready to make his first start of the regular season. The Nationals aren’t completely out of the woods yet, but they appear to be close.
2. Who’s the No. 5 starter?
With Ross Detwiler now headed to the bullpen, the Nationals must decide between Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan (and possibly Chris Young) for the final spot in their Opening Day rotation. After his scheduled start Monday in Lakeland was rained out, Roark faced minor-league hitters yesterday. Jordan is scheduled to start tonight against Houston. Neither young right-hander has clearly distinguished himself from the other this spring. Will the Nats make this decision based on their final few starts in Florida, or will they base it on other factors?
3. Who’s the 7th reliever?
There seemingly had been two bullpen spots up for grabs all spring, but the Detwiler move now leaves only one job available. And there remain a whole bunch of guys in the mix. Right-handers Ryan Mattheus and Ross Ohlendorf probably won’t be fully recovered from minor injuries in time, so cross them off the list. That leaves fellow right-handers Christian Garcia, Aaron Barrett, Luis Ayala, Manny Delcarmen and Blake Treinin in the competition. Unless the Nationals decide to go with another lefty, their third out of the ‘pen. That would keep Xavier Cedeno and Michael Gonzalez in the mix as well. Needless to say, the Nats could choose to go in any of a number of ways here.
4. Who’s the starting second baseman?
It has seemed like a formality all along, but until Williams actually names Anthony Rendon his Opening Day second baseman, this technically remains an undecided position. Danny Espinosa, to his credit, has performed well this spring and has impressed the coaching staff and front office with his approach at the plate. All signs point to Espinosa opening the season as Rendon’s backup at second base and Ian Desmond’s backup at shortstop.
5. Who’s the last guy off the bench?
Assuming Espinosa is on the club — and assuming Nate McLouth, Scott Hairston and Jose Lobaton are safely heading north with the team — there is one final spot on the bench up for grabs. It almost certainly will go to a right-handed hitter, and the two obvious contenders are Tyler Moore and Jamey Carroll. Moore offers far more upside and a power bat off the bench, but there is legitimate reason to question where he would get his at-bats if Ryan Zimmerman indeed backs up Adam LaRoche at first base. Carroll also would have a hard time cracking the lineup at any of the other three infield positions, but he’s also more accustomed to holding down a bench job at this stage of his career. The question, though, is how much the 40-year-old has left in his tank.
NL EAST STANDINGS
SAT: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SUN: Phillies at Nats, 1:35 p.m.
MON: Orioles at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
TUE: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
WED: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
THU: Mets at Nats, 12:35 p.m.
FRI: Nats at Braves 7:35 p.m.
Full season schedule
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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