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The Washington Nationals are looking to begin 2014 by turning a weakness into strength by taking from their starting pitching depth and fortifying the left side of their bullpen.

The biggest news of spring training was new manager Matt Williams' decision to move fifth starter left-hander Ross Detwiler to the bullpen to begin the season.

The fourth starter question was answered before camp began with the acquisition of former Tigers hurler Doug Fister, a veteran who earned 24 wins in 59 starts the past two seasons for Detroit.

Fister was solid last Saturday in his return after missing 20 days of camp with right elbow inflammation.

"Command is coming back," Fister told the Washington Post. "I'm still working on those kind of things. I'm pleased with where I'm at, but there's still a long way to go before the season. I've got a lot of work in a little bit of time."

Last season the team went with Zach Duke as the only left-hander to begin the season in the bullpen. It turned into a significant mistake the Nationals were unable to recover from until it was too late in the season.

Detwiler and former Oakland Athletics pitcher Jerry Blevins are the pair of battle tested southpaws Williams will take north for Opening Day.

Right-hander Taylor Jordan staked his claim for the final starting spot in the rotation with an impressive outing against the Florida Marlins on Monday. Jordan went 5 2/3 innings on five hits, allowing only one run, one walk and striking out two. His main competition for the fifth spot is Tanner Roark, who also was solid in spring work, going 1-0 with a 3.29 ERA in four games over 13 2/3 innings, including 11 strikeouts.

"Of course (Jordan)'s made a case," Williams said. "He's pitched well the whole spring for us. It's going to be a very difficult decision. They're both pitching very well, and that's a good thing.

"I don't know how you could be wrong. That's a great, difficult decision to have."

The other big question to start camp was who would start at second base. Rookie Anthony Rendon took over for a struggling veteran Danny Espinosa midway through last season and shined. But Espinosa is back healthy. Both have had their moments during spring training.

"Anthony has played really well," Williams said. "His swing is right on. Danny's swing is right on right now. They're both quality defenders in the infield. They both play multiple positions. So, there's options there."

The Nationals have strong starting pitching with Opening Day starter right-hander Stephen Strasburg, lefty Gio Gonzalez and right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, not to mention Fister and either righty Taylor Jordan or Roark.

They boast a lineup of young stars like outfielder Bryce Harper and Rendon, mixed with veterans Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, Denard Span and the up and coming power hitting catcher Wilson Ramos. The bench will be led by veterans Nate McLouth, Scott Hairston, Espinosa, plus a pair of backup catchers Jose Lobaton and Sandy Leon.

With offseason additions to the starting rotation, the bullpen and the bench, the Nationals are primed to take back the National League East crown from the Atlanta Braves in 2014. Now, they just have to get off to a better start.

NOTES, QUOTES

--CF Bryce Harper looks completely healthy following offseason left knee surgery. He played almost every day of spring training and gets physical therapy twice a week. "I'm excited," Harper said to the Washington Post. "I haven't felt any pain or any swelling or anything like that. Of course, you're going to get a little swelling here or there. But it feels great. I have no complaints with it. I don't even feel like I had surgery at all."

--RHP Rafael Soriano struggled in spring training, allowing 11 hits, nine runs over 4 2/3 innings, but his slider has been better, according to pitching coach Steve McCatty."With Sori, I know exactly what Sori is doing when he goes out there in spring training," McCatty said to the Washington Post. "He's getting his work in to feel good. People say, 'He sucks, he's broken.' Not just Sori, but any particular guy that's struggling. 'What's wrong with this guy?' You just have to take that into account. That's the way it is."

--2B Danny Espinosa calmed down his swing this spring with positive results. He was able to keep his strikeouts down and still hit with power, evidenced by last Saturday's two homers against the Marlins. "It's more encouraging, definitely," Espinosa said to the Washington Post about his approach at the plate. "I feel like I've really been sticking to what I'm trying to do and just simplify as much as possible."

--RHP Drew Storen has not had a great spring training, struggling with some control issues. Storen walked six, allowing eight hits and six runs over 5 2/3 innings in the spring. But this doesn't concern pitching coach Steve McCatty. "Drew is Drew," McCatty told the Washington Post. At times, the ball is going to be elevated. We always work on getting it down. But I do see a good breaking ball."

--RHP Doug Fister (right elbow inflammation) was scratched from his scheduled March 7 start. After missing 20 days, Fister pitched well in his return to the mound and felt no discomfort in his elbow after the game. He will have a minor league start before being given go ahead for the opening week of the season.

--LHP Michael Gonzalez was released by the Nationals. The team also optioned RHP Ryan Mattheus, LHP Xavier Cedeno and 1B/OF Tyler Moore to Triple-A Syracuse. The team released RHP Chris Young and INF Jamey Carroll.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We all certainly want to get off to a great start, and everybody wants to win that first game because it feels good and it's good momentum and all those things. For me, I think it's important for our guys to feel good and get excited about themselves and all that stuff. They're all going to pitch, though." --Nationals manager Matt Williams, to the Washington Post on his starting pitching.

ROSTER REPORT

The Nationals had no major injuries or setbacks during spring training. Newly acquired starter Doug Fister appears good to go following elbow inflammation that forced him to miss almost three weeks. He makes a vaunted starting rotation that much stronger. The fact that they were able to move potential fifth starter Ross Detwiler to the bullpen shows the depth the team has in starting rotation.

Outfielder Bryce Harper looks stronger and completely healthy as he begins his third professional season. The batting order is solid from top to bottom. Catcher Wilson Ramos could have a breakout season. Despite a slow spring, Rafael Soriano will anchor an improved relief corps, with veteran Tyler Clippard, rejuvenated Drew Storen and new lefty Jerry Blevins solidifying the bullpen.

ROTATION:

1. RHP Stephen Strasburg

2. LHP Gio Gonzalez

3. RHP Jordan Zimmermann

4. RHP Doug Fister

5. RHP Taylor Jordan

Very few rotations in baseball can match the top three in Strasburg, Gonzalez and Zimmermann. The team struggled with that next starter the past two seasons. Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren were unable to ultimately deliver, and Fister looks to be the answer general manager Mike Rizzo has been searching for in that fourth spot. Youth will be served with Jordan notching the final spot or crafty Tanner Roark providing depth.

If Fister (elbow inflammation) cannot start the season healthy, Roark and Jordan will be the final two starters. Left-hander Ross Detwiler could come out of the bullpen for a spot start or even become the fifth starter again if these others falter.

BULLPEN:

RHP Rafael Soriano (closer)

RHP Tyler Clippard

RHP Drew Storen

RHP Craig Stammen

RHP Aaron Barrett

LHP Jerry Blevins

LHP Ross Detwiler

Soriano struggled in spring training, but his slider showed promise of returning to form. The distraction of demotion from closer and then to the minors forced Storen to refocus and get rid of his long leg stretch, allowing him to increase his speed to the plate and not allow runners to get big starts behind him. Stammen was solid and no one pitches more in eight inning clutch situations for this team then Clippard. The 26-year-old Barrett will be a valuable piece of the Nationals bullpen, according to manager Matt Williams.

Blevins was a nice pickup. Having Detwiler and most likely Cedeno has consistent left-handers in the bullpen will help them against the New York Mets and the Braves early in the season, hoping to prevent the slow start that mired the 2013 campaign.

LINEUP:

1. CF Denard Span

2. 2B Anthony Rendon

3. RF Jayson Werth

4. 3B Ryan Zimmerman

5. LF Bryce Harper

6. SS Ian Desmond

7. 1B Adam LaRoche

8. C Wilson Ramos

The lineup is another strength for the Nationals. Span hopes to continue his hot streak he enjoyed at the end of last season, finally figuring out National League pitching tendencies after spending several seasons in the American League with the Twins. Rendon should do a good job of getting on base in front of the big bats.

Having Werth and Zimmerman in front of Harper will allow the youngster a chance at some good pitches. Desmond has been extremely consistent in any spot in the order. LaRoche needs to bounce back from an average season, hoping full health will get him on track. Ramos has the power to have a breakout season and is a great candidate to anchor the final spot in the lineup.

RESERVES:

C Jose Lobaton

C Sandy Leon

INF Danny Espinosa

INF Jeff Kobernus

OF Nate McLouth

OF Scott Hairston

Lobaton was a nice pickup from the Tampa Bay Rays organization and will provide key depth on Ramos' off days. There is still question whether Espinosa will be a starter at second base, a key reserve or get traded. A choice has to be made between Kobernus and Leon. Kobernus has a good chance to make team with his speed, but Leon provides insurance so that Ramos can be used as a pinch hitter on off days. Hairston still has one year left on his deal and $2.5 million guaranteed, but needs to get more out of his at-bats.

MEDICAL WATCH:

--RHP Ryan Mattheus (sore chest) was shut down from throwing in late February. As of mid-March, he was long-tossing. He cannot be stretched out until he recovers from the chest injury. Mattheus was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse on March 25.

--RHP Erik Davis (right elbow strain) went on the 60-day disabled list Feb. 13.
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