WASHINGTON -- General manager Mike Rizzo informed the local media that starting pitching is the top priority for the Nationals this offseason.

Rizzo believes he could get a top-of-the-rotation pitcher via trade or free agency. Rizzo said that he could trade some of his prospects for a frontline starter, not a pitcher like right-hander Jason Marquis, who would give a team innings, but is not known for racking up victories.

The Nationals thought they had an ace in right-hander Stephen Strasburg, but he is out for most of next season after having Tommy John surgery early this month.

"We need a front-of-the-rotation guy to put everybody in their proper places in the rotation," Rizzo said. "That's the No. 1 priority going into the offseason. We definitely have depth -- prospect-wise -- to pull off a deal for a pitcher."

Rangers left-hander Cliff Lee is the only stud pitcher on the free-agent market this offseason, and the Nationals will have a lot of competition for his services. It is more likely Washington will trade for a top pitcher.

Rizzo also mentioned that he would like a bat at the top of the order to set up the sluggers to drive in runs. He said that center fielder Nyjer Morgan will be given every opportunity to fill that spot during Spring Training. Morgan had his worst season in the big leagues, hitting .257 with a .319 on-base percentage entering Wednesday. Rizzo also wants hitters who can grind out at-bats.

"We need more balance," Rizzo said. "We certainly need to set the table for the middle of the lineup -- for the big hitter to drive in runs. I think we need to have a lineup that grinds out at-bats, drive up pitch counts on starting pitchers to get into bullpens."

Rizzo didn't say how much money the Nationals would spend during the offseason. The club is not going to settle on a payroll until after the season comes to an end.

Ramos, Pudge likely to platoon at catcher

WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said that catchers Ivan Rodriguez and Wilson Ramos will most likely platoon behind the plate in 2011, with the hope of Ramos becoming the starting catcher by the second half of next season.

Ramos, a highly touted prospect, was acquired from the Nationals last July in a trade that sent closer Matt Capps to the Twins. Ramos is currently holding his own in a platoon with Rodriguez, hitting .275 with a homer and four RBIs entering Wednesday's action.

What this news means for Jesus Flores is unknown. He is currently playing in the instructional leagues, and so far hasn't had any problems with his right shoulder, which has forced him to miss almost two seasons.

"Pudge will be here for sure," Riggleman said. "Ramos will come to Spring Training with an opportunity to be with Pudge. As the season would go, the hope would be that Ramos would get more and more playing time as the season goes next year and evolve into the No. 1 guy."

General manager Mike Rizzo said recently that he considers Flores a full-time Major League catcher, but it appears it will not happen in Nationals uniform.

Rizzo: Nats in process of closing gap

WASHINGTON -- General manger Mike Rizzo believes the Nationals are in the process of closing the gap with the Phillies, who won their fourth consecutive National League East title on Monday.

But the Nationals have to get starting pitching first.

"It's starts with the starting rotation," Rizzo said. "Once we get that fixed right away, I think we'll get that much closer [to the Phillies]. They have three stud front-of-the-rotation pitchers, and we can't say that at this point."