This past Sunday, the Washington Nationals officially named four starters: John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Craig Stammen, and Livan Hernandez. This announcement left the fifth and final position in the rotation unaccounted for and a relatively underwhelming cast of competitors, all of which have had their struggles. Garrett Mock, apparently a shoo-in for one of the five spots as recently as March 15, has seen his stock tumble, allowing six runs on seven hits and five walks in 4.2 innings yesterday against the Marlins. J.D. Martin, he of the first round pedigree, has been sent to AAA Syracuse this morning. Finally, Scott Olsen, the lone remaining southpaw in a right-hand dominated rotation, has posted a 6.75 ERA to go along with a 1-2 win-loss record. However, Olsen has improved his position of late, surrendering just two runs (one earned) on seven hits in 5.1 innings in his most recent outing against the Atlanta Braves. In that start, Olsen threw 64 of his 85 pitches for strikes and struck out four batters while walking none.
While Olsen appeared dead in the water as little as a week ago, it now seems just as likely that he will secure the fifth spot in the Nationals' rotation (at least until top prospect Stephen Strasburg toils in the minors long enough to delay his arbitration clock). In what was his final audition, Olsen was impressive against what was admittedly a short-handed Braves team. That said, Olsen's probable ascension to the starting rotation seems an act of necessity rather than one based purely on merit. Mock has struggled mightily in the last two weeks, and Martin allowed seven runs in six innings over the span of his three Grapefruit League appearances. Thus, I believe that Olsen will begin the season as the Nationals' fifth starter; however, I would assume that he will soon be relegated to, at most, spot starts once Strasburg gets called up.