Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Tom Gorzelanny has done little this spring but remains in line for a rotation spot.
Unless, of course, there really isn't a battle at all because Gorzelanny's going to get the job no matter what.
Truth be told, that's probably how this is going to play out in the end. Not because Gorzelanny will necessarily do anything to secure his place, but because the Nationals aren't focused on who their five Opening Day starters are as much as they're focused on establishing a stable of 10 or more starters who are likely to be needed during the course of the season.
We all tend to put too much emphasis on spring training competitions. Every once in a while, these battles really do matter because the loser winds up getting released or is never heard from again. But most of the time, the winner merely is assured of a big-league job for a few weeks while the loser heads to Syracuse knowing he's likely to be promoted in short order.
This is especially true when it comes to starting pitchers. As they've proven since they arrived in town, the Nationals need a lot more than five starters each year. In fact, they've yet to make it through a full season using less than 11 starting pitchers. Last season, they used 14. Even during their surprising 2005 pennant chase, they used 15.
And they usually don't waste much time making rotation changes. Here's the calendar date from each of the last six seasons when the Nationals employed their sixth starting pitcher for the first time: May 10, 2005; April 20, 2006; May 8, 2007; April 19, 2008; May 18, 2009; April 15, 2010.
Remember Zach Day, Ryan Drese, Jerome Williams, Daniel Cabrera and Garrett Mock? All were members of the Nationals' Opening Day rotation at some point. All were out of the rotation within weeks.
The point is, it doesn't matter whether the No. 5 starter to open the season is Gorzelanny, Detwiler, Maya or Gaudin. They're all going to start games at some point this year.
Which means the Nationals' top priority has got to be ensuring all of them remain in the organization. Gorzelanny is out of options; he can't be sent to the minors without first passing through waivers. That, more than anything, gives him the inside track for the fifth spot to open the year.
Detwiler and Maya may be performing better this spring, but each has options and thus can start the year at Class AAA Syracuse with ease.
Gaudin, meanwhile, is in camp on a minor-league contract. So the Nationals could decide to have him open at Syracuse, or they could purchase his contract at the end of the month and make him their long reliever/emergency starter in the big leagues.
Would everyone prefer Gorzelanny (who was less-than-inspiring in his exhibition debut last night) do something positive to seize his position? Sure. But even if Gorzelanny struggles, and even if Detwiler, Maya and Gaudin thrive, the makeup of the Nationals' Opening Day rotation probably won't change.
Because everyone knows the rotation at the end of April most likely will include someone who wasn't in the rotation at the end of March.