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Nats considering five starters, six relievers

Nats considering five starters, six relievers

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- If the 2010 season started on Thursday, the Nationals would carry five starters and six relievers, even though they have two off-days during the first two weeks of the season.

The Opening Day starter -- either Jason Marquis or John Lannan -- would pitch against the Phillies at Nationals Park on April 5. With an off-day the next day, Washington manager Jim Riggleman would have his Nos. 2, 3 and 4 starters pitch April 7, 8 (vs. the Phillies) and April 9 -- (vs. the Mets).

The Opening Day pitcher would then start against New York on April 10 before the fifth starter receives his chance against the Mets the following day. Riggleman could also have the fifth starter pitch on April 10, while the Opening Day starter could get the nod the next day.

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Other than Marquis and Lannan, the Nationals don't know who will be in their rotation. There are at least 10 pitchers fighting for the final three spots. Four of them pitched in spilt-squad games on Thursday.

Right-handers J.D. Martin and Collin Balester pitched against the Marlins in Jupiter, Fla., while right-handers Garrett Mock and Shairon Martis threw against the Astros at Osceola County Stadium.

Martin pitched two shutout innings, while Balester gave up one run in two frames during a 10-4 loss to the Marlins.

Mock was strong himself, shutting out the Astros for two innings while giving up three hits in a 15-5 defeat. Mock also received help from the defense in the second inning.

With one out, Astros outfielder Jason Michaels doubled over the head of left fielder Roger Bernadina, who grabbed the ball and made a perfect throw to shortstop Alberto Gonzalez, who threw Jason Castro out at the plate.

It proved to Mock that if he pitches to contact, good things will happen on defense. Last year, Mock didn't throw enough strikes, walking 44 hitters in 91 1/3 innings.

"It was a decent place to start out," Mock said about his outing. "I feel like I accomplished some of the goals that I set for attacking guys and inviting contact. Just like any other game, there are positive things to take from it, and there's stuff to look at and take to my next outing."

Martis, on the other hand, had an outing he would like to forget, allowing six runs in 1 1/3 innings. The righty entered the game in the bottom of the third inning, with Washington leading, 5-0.

But it all unraveled for Martis in the next inning. The first hitter he faced -- Hunter Pence -- hit a solo homer. Martis would only record one out before he was replaced by right-hander Joel Peralta. The Astros scored nine runs in the frame.

Martis' problem was that he was unable to keep the ball down in the strike zone. The strong wind didn't help his cause either. Balls were carrying to left- and right-center field.

"He got a couple of balls on the sweet spot," Riggleman said about Martis. "Today, if you get the ball in the air in right-center or left-center, you have a chance to do some damage. We have to get the ground ball or strikeout on days like this."

Riggleman indicated that would not hold it against pitchers who had below-average first outings.

"These first couple of outings, we are going to let them get the bugs out -- take a lot of things into consideration," Riggleman said. "We have to get more ground balls than that -- no matter who it is."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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