JUPITER, Fla. — Six weeks of spring training haven’t been enough for the Nationals to settle on a No. 5 starter, so what’s a couple more days at this point?
Manager Matt Williams said Wednesday the club still hasn’t made a decision on its last remaining roster question and won’t until after Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan each get an opportunity to pitch during Saturday’s exhibition finale at Nationals Park.
“We’re going to have Tanner, and we’re going to have Taylor; both are going to pitch that day in the exhibition game,” Williams said. “So that’s the plan as of right now. There’s been no decision made.”
Williams said Roark is likely to start Saturday against the Tigers, with Jordan following him out of the bullpen. Each right-hander will get a chance to throw several innings, leaving either ready to start the Nationals’ home opener, April 4 against the Braves.
The two young hurlers have been squaring off all spring, with original candidate Ross Detwiler dropped from the competition when he was moved to the bullpen last week. Neither has clearly distinguished himself over the other: Roark has a 3.29 ERA and 1.024 WHIP this spring, while Jordan has a 3.92 ERA and a stellar 20-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The competition appears to have left members of the Nationals’ coaching staff and front office legitimately debating which pitcher deserves the job.
“I don’t know if there’s a difference of opinion,” Williams said. “I think the more accurate statement would be: They both make a really good case. So could you go wrong if it’s one over the other? I don’t know if you could. But we have to look at, certainly, all of our thoughts and everybody’s suggestions. We do really approach this as a group. And everybody’s free to give their opinion, and we take those opinions seriously. And we’ll make our decision. But it truly is a group effort.”
One factor that has prevented the decision from being made yet: Club officials want to be 100 percent confident No. 4 starter Doug Fister will be ready to open the season on-time after missing three weeks with elbow inflammation. The right-hander is scheduled to throw 60-to-65 pitches in a minor-league game Thursday in Viera. If that goes well, he would then remain in Florida to make one more minor-league start April 1, ramping up to about 80 pitches.
Fister would be slated to make his Nationals debut April 6 against the Braves. But if, for some reason, he wasn’t quite ready yet, the Nationals could keep both Roark and Jordan in the Opening Day rotation.