MLB Team Report - Washington Nationals - INSIDE PITCH


MIAMI -- Their spot in the playoffs as the NL East champions has been assured, but the Washington Nationals face numerous decisions as they prepare for just the third playoff run in the franchise's 46-year history.

Whether to activate third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who has been out since July 22 due to a torn hamstring, is a one of the major decisions facing the team.

But there are others choices to be made as well.

The Nationals need to figure out their four starters even though they have five quality candidates. And they also have to determine their bench and bullpen, with key guys sure to be left out of the mix because they have more than 25 deserving players.

Here's a look at the team's key dilemmas regarding their playoff roster:

--Rotation: Stephen Strasburg has been the ace all season and will likely start the Nationals' first game. Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, who won on Friday, will likely follow. Manager Matt Williams' toughest choice will be between Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark for the fourth spot. Gonzalez is the rotation's only lefty, giving him an edge, and he has playoff experience. And even though he did not pitch well in the 2012 postseason, he likely gets the edge.

--Infield: Ryan Zimmerman could be back on Saturday. But it remains to be seen how good his timing will be and how adept he will be on defense. After he was injured, the Nationals moved Anthony Rendon to third base and traded for Asdrubal Cabrera, plugging him in at second. That, at the moment, may be the Nationals' best defensive lineup.

But a healthy Zimmerman would be -- at the very least -- a great option against lefty pitchers and/or as a late-inning pinch-hitter.

--End of the roster: Kevin Frandsen, who is valuable as a reserve first baseman, outfielder and third baseman, may be left off the roster. Left-hander Jerry Blevins, who has pitched in 61 games this year, is also in jeopardy after posting a 6.10 ERA since the All-Star break. Blevins' role as a lefty reliever has been taken by Matt Thornton, who has a 0.00 ERA in 16 appearances over the span of 10 innings.

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MLB Team Report - Washington Nationals - NOTES, QUOTES


RECORD: 89-64

STREAK: Won two

NEXT: Nationals (RHP Jordan Zimmermann, 12-5, 2.83 ERA) at Marlins (RHP Jarred Cosart, 4-2, 2.05 ERA)

PLAYER NOTES:

--RHP Jordan Zimmermann is set to start Saturday against the Marlins. He is on a run of 10 quality starts in a row and has not allowed a run in his past 6 2/3 innings. He has 22 quality starts for the season, which is tied with Stephen Strasburg for the team lead. Zimmermann had a career year last season when he went 19-9. But his ERA this season (2.83) is actually better than it was last year (3.25) even though the win-loss record does not reflect that fact. Zimmermann, 28, is 10th in the NL in ERA and has been described as a "born strike-thrower" who has a business-like demeanor on the mound. If he keeps this ERA level, it would be a career best, ahead of the 2.94 mark he posted in 2012.

--RHP Doug Fister won his career-high 15th game on Friday night. Fister (15-6), a right-hander who broke into the majors in 2009, won 14 games last season for his previous high. On Friday, Fister allowed five hits, two walks and two runs in 6 2/3 innings. His walk ratio is the lowest among active pitchers with more than 500 career innings, and he has yet to allow a steal this season.

--RHP Stephen Strasburg, who is set to pitch Sunday against the Marlins, has a 1.69 ERA in his past four starts. During those four starts over a span of 26 2/3 innings, he has struck out 28 and walked none. Strasburg, who was Washington's Opening Day pitcher, is in line to get the Nationals' first playoff start.