Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Scott Olsen could still wind up pitching for the Nats before long.
The 25 men who will trot out to the first-base line Monday afternoon during player introductions will include some upgrades from past Opening Day rosters. The bullpen, while hardly fantastic, sure beats last year's Shell-Hinckley-Ledezma bunch. The lineup, while hardly the '27 Yankees, does feature a legitimate leadoff man in Nyjer Morgan, a potent 3-4 punch in Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn and reliable veterans Adam Kennedy and Ivan Rodriguez at the bottom.
And the rotation includes ... well, this might be the most-disappointing part. John Lannan and Jason Marquis are perfectly fine. Ideally, they'd be the Nos. 3 and 4 starters instead of the Nos. 1 and 2 starters, but everyone knew coming in this would be the case.
The bigger concern is the opening 3-4-5 of Craig Stammen, Garrett Mock and Livan Hernandez (who isn't even on the Opening Day roster but will be added in time to start next Sunday in New York). Not to take anything away from those three guys, but their names won't exactly send shivers down the spines of the Phillies, Mets, Brewers, Rockies, Dodgers and Cubs (Washington's first six opponents in April).
Don't however, get too accustomed to those names (or others you'll see here Monday) because there's every reason to believe some of them won't remain on the roster over the long haul.
For most teams, the No. 5 starter is a revolving door position, with pitchers moving in and out of the spot, whether from Class AAA, the bullpen or from other organizations. For the Nats, you should probably think of the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 spots as potential merry-go-rounds.
"Ideally, you'd like to name your five guys and go," manager Jim Riggleman said earlier this week. "But that's not the nature of it. It would be unrealistic to think we're going to start out the season with five starters, and two or three months later still have the same five."
Again, this is not to disparage Stammen, Mock or Hernandez. Each one did what he needed to make this roster, and each one of them could wind up making a significant contribution to the club.
But make no mistake: The leash on each of them will be short, especially in the cases of Stammen and Mock, who still have minor-league options and can be demoted to Syracuse at the first sign of trouble.
"Options" in this case can also refer to a bevy of pitchers waiting in the wings for an opportunity, whether Syracuse starters like Olsen, Matt Chico and J.D. Martin or rehabbing starters like Chien-Ming Wang and Ross Detwiler. Oh yeah, and some guy named Strasburg may figure into this picture before long.
Perhaps, though, the threat of replacement can actually benefit Stammen and Mock. They both appear to be taking the right approach to their unstable statuses.
"Lucky for me, I've never really been given anything, so I'm constantly on edge about staying, not being complacent, not going in with the expectation that being the No. 3 starter means I'm going to be there all year," said Stammen, who allowed three runs over five innings today. "I've got to prove that. I've got to pitch well. If I don't pitch well for the team, they're going to get rid of me. That's just the way it is."
The revolving door could very well apply to the Nationals' bullpen as well, which will consist of eight members for the season's first five days but figures to drop by one once Hernandez is added.
That could mean tough luck for English, far and away the biggest surprise on the Opening Day roster. The 25-year-old lefty, claimed off waivers from the Giants last September in a move hardly anyone noticed at the time, has never pitched above Class AA. So he figured to open the season at Harrisburg, maybe Syracuse.
But then a funny thing happened. Every time the Nationals used him this spring, he made a case for himself. Over 10 appearances spanning 7 2/3 innings, English posted a 3.52 ERA. He saved three games. And, most impressively, he struck out 10 without walking a single batter.
"It was impressive," GM Mike Rizzo said. "It was impressive to see him come in and command the strike zone and not be afraid to throw all his pitches over the plate and really go after hitters."
Just like that, English went from a camp afterthought to major-league reliever. How long will his stint last? Maybe five days. Maybe more. But you can be sure he's not going to take the mound next week for his big-league debut worried about who's looking over his shoulder.
"There's no more mulligans. It's the season now," he said. "So I'm not looking at it as a tryout. I've got to go out there, try to win games and help the team as best as I can."
Whether English, Stammen, Mock and plenty of others who survived the final cutdown get to help the Nationals win for the long haul or the short term remains to be seen.
They'll all get to take the field Monday afternoon and shake hands with the President and play before a sellout crowd. Once the hoopla of Opening Day concludes, the pressure will be on all of them to prove the Nationals made the right decision keeping all of them on the roster.