In what may have been his final audition for a position in the Nationals' starting rotation, left-handed starting pitcher Scott Olsen had a very rough outing. Facing what closely resembled the Detroit Tigers' opening day lineup, Olsen surrendered six runs and twelve hits in 4.1 innings pitched. Tigers' third baseman Brandon Inge and catcher Gerald Laird both hit fifth inning home runs, and, despite claiming that his shoulder feels fine following season-ending surgery last July, Olsen struggled mightily. With at most one start left in spring training, Olsen needs to exhibit drastically superior command and effectiveness to have a chance to make the Nationals' rotation.
In other news, former Nationals starting catcher Jesus Flores reported to Viera today. While Flores appears to be healing nicely from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder (slight inflammation remains), no projected deadline has been established for his return. The team will allow him to progress and rehabilitate the injured arm at his own pace in order to ensure a full recovery.
Olsen is facing serious competition for a spot in the rotation. With right-handers Jason Marquis and Garrett Mock and left-hander John Lannan securing positions, Olsen is vying for one of the final two spots with right-handers Livan Hernandez, J.D. Martin, and Craig Stammen. While Olsen has the advantage as the only left-hander other than Lannan, the other three contenders have positive attributes as well. Hernandez has started over 400 games in 14 seasons and is extremely reliable - a near-lock to start 25-30 games and throw approximately 200 innings if given an entire season. Stammen, on the other hand, has made his case with his performance this spring, posting a 2.89 ERA as compared to Olsen's 9.64 ERA, each in 9.1 innings pitched. Finally, Martin has also excelled in the spring with a 3.60 ERA in five innings. Furthermore, Martin has both the pedigree of a first-round draft pick and a clean bill of health; therefore, the team is inclined to give him a chance to prove himself. All told, without a rapid turnaround, Olsen seems destined for Syracuse.
As an aside, former Nationals' closer Mike MacDougal was released by the Florida Marlins. MacDougal, 33, saved 20 games last year; however, the right-hander struggled with his control, walking more batters than he struck out in 54.1 innings. Though he has displayed a fastball in the mid-upper 90s over his nine-year career, his problems have stemmed from his inability to either control that pitch or throw anything besides it with any consistency. While a 95 mile-per-hour fastball is obviously an asset, a slower, more accurate pitcher will generally achieve greater success. Location is paramount in major league baseball, and, if MacDougal does not improve his, he may find his career coming to an end.