Nationals rotation is stacked with talent

VIERA, Fla. (AP) Catcher Wilson Ramos was only three or four pitches into his first bullpen session with new Washington Nationals starter Max Scherzer when he realized he needed to change gloves.

”Every pitch moved a lot,” the Nationals catcher said during the first day of workouts. ”It’s hard to catch him with a new glove, so I used my old one to feel comfortable. I like to be behind the plate and not in front of the plate against him.”

Scherzer, who signed a seven-year, $210 million contract with the Nationals in the offseason, joins a staff that is expected to be the best in baseball.

With former No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg, two-time All-Stars Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez, and also Doug Fister, who led the team in wins (16) and ERA (2.41) last season, the Nationals’ rotation is simply loaded.

”There’s no break,” reliever Casey Janssen said. ”They’ve got guys that throw gas. You’ve got your lefty (Gonzalez). There are a lot of different looks, a lot of different strengths that each pitcher brings.”

”It seems like they’re going to battle you every night. Good luck scoring,” he said.

In addition to their five main starters, the Nationals also have right-hander Tanner Roark, who was last year’s fifth starter. Roark will continue to train this spring as if he will be a starter, though he will likely start the season in the bullpen.

Zimmermann, who threw the first no-hitter in Nationals history last season, was the subject of trade rumors after the team signed Scherzer, though he tried his best not to pay attention to them.

”But (it’s hard to do that) when I turn the TV on and see it everywhere and people are texting me and everywhere I go, (I hear people say), Oh, you’re going to Boston, you’re going here,”’ the right-hander said.

A free agent after the upcoming season, Zimmermann would be happy to get a new deal with Washington during spring, but said he doesn’t want to negotiate once the season starts. Right now, he’s just glad he’s still a National.

”I was hoping I wouldn’t get traded and could stay,” Zimmermann said. ”I’m here now and it’s looking like I’m staying. I’m happy to be here.”

One of the more interesting questions for the Nationals, who led the NL with 96 wins last season, will be how they decide to stack their rotation. Strasburg has started opening day for the past three seasons, but Scherzer is a former AL Cy Young winner and Zimermann has won more games (45) than any other Nationals pitcher the past three seasons.

Nationals manager Matt Williams said Saturday that health would be one of the biggest factors, citing last season when Fister was hurt during spring training and didn’t make his first start until May.

General manager Mike Rizzo would only say, ”the paycheck isn’t going to determine who is going to pitch first.”

Then there is pitching coach Steve McCatty, who said he doesn’t place a big emphasis on who is at the top of the rotation and noted that his pitchers don’t, either.

Zimmermann said Saturday he doesn’t care if he’s the No. 1 guy, and Scherzer told reporters on Friday that ”it really doesn’t matter” who is tabbed as the No. 1 guy.

”From talking to each one of them over the winter, they have one thing in mind,” McCatty said. ”Their mindset is winning our division and going deep into the playoffs with a chance to win the World Series. There’s not a bunch of big egos here. There really isn’t.:

”The ego’s not there … but the ability is. That’s a nice combination.”