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03/18/10 7:24 PM ET

Six candidates want fifth-starter job

Chico, Hernandez, Stammen among Nationals' possibilities

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals already know who four starters will be in their rotation. Left-hander John Lannan is scheduled to be the Opening Day starter against the Phillies on April 5, while Jason Marquis, Garrett Mock and Scott Olsen are expected to get starts soon thereafter.

But the Nationals still need to find out who their fifth starter will be. There are at least six candidates.

LHP Matt Chico: After missing almost two years because of elbow reconstruction, Chico has proved he is 100 percent healthy, but is that enough? When he is good, Chico can get a ton of ground-ball outs. When he's bad, he walks a lot of batters and opponents have an easy time hitting his fastball. Chico will be the first to say that he can't throw just his fastball to get by. All of his pitches have to be working to be effective. Washington has seen both sides of Chico this spring. He may have to start the season in the Minor Leagues.

RHP Livan Hernandez: Most experts consider him the leading candidate to be the fifth starter, but keep in mind that he is coming off a disappointing season. Once he signed with the Nationals in late February, Hernandez had to get into pitching shape and didn't play in an exhibition game until Sunday against Cardinals. He pitched three innings, gave up one earned run and walked three batters. His next start will be Friday in an intrasquad game.

RHP J.D. Martin: Like Mock, Martin has pitched to contact and hasn't allowed a walk in two games. Keep in mind that he was hurt by rainouts and had to pitch on the team's Minor League field. Manager Jim Riggleman hasn't ruled out Martin being a long man out of the bullpen.

RHP Sharion Martis: His first outing of the spring might have killed his chances of making the team. On March 4, Martis gave up six runs in 1 2/3 innings against the Astros. Since then, he has pitched in two games, allowing no runs in three innings. There have been too many pitchers in camp, and Martis has spent a lot of time on the Minor League field or pitching in simulated games.

RHP Craig Stammen: Last year, he scored a lot of points with the organization by pitching with bone chips in his right elbow. On Tuesday, Stammen helped himself even further by having his best outing of the spring, giving up two unearned runs in four innings against the Marlins. He must continue to pitch well if he wants to stay on the team. There is a possibility Stammen could be a long man out of the bullpen. Besides the one spot left in the rotation, there are only two spots to determine in the bullpen.

RHP Stephen Strasburg: Let's admit it: The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft has been the Nationals' best pitcher this spring, throwing five shutout innings and striking out four batters. However, it seems unlikely he will be with the team on Opening Day. General manager Mike Rizzo has a solid reputation of not rushing pitchers to the big leagues. Strasburg is scheduled to throw against a Cardinals split-squad on Friday at Space Coast Stadium. Will that be his last outing of the spring with the big club? We'll see. Keep in mind, the Nationals are expected to make their fourth round of cuts either Sunday or Monday.

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