The givens should be Gonzalez, Jackson, Zimmermann, and Lannan since all are healthy and were at full strength last season. Lannan was 10-13 with a 3.70 ERA in 33 starts while Zimmermann was 8-11 with a 3.18 ERA in 26 starts for the Nationals last season. Gonzalez is expected to be the team's ace; last year he went 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA in 32 starts for an bad Oakland team. Jackson, who is putting on his sixth different uniform in the past five seasons, has made 31 or more starts in each of the past five seasons. Last year, he was 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA in 32 games, 31 starts for the White Sox and Cardinals, starting four games for St.Louis during their 2011 postseason run.
Strasburg and Wang are expected to be major parts of the rotation after making returns at the end of last year. Wang (4-3, 4.04 ERA in 11 starts) is ready after missing most of the past couple of seasons with shoulder ailments. He should be a fixture in their rotation as they hope he can return to 2006-2007 New York Yankees form. Strasburg lost most of last season due to Tommy John surgery, but made his return in September going 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA in 5 starts. It was obvious Strasburg was being babied and more of the same should be expected for 2012.
Zimmermann is at the stage where he should pitch a full season now, no more innings limit. Gonzalez, Jackson, Lannan and Wang will all expect to make 30 starts. That leaves Strasburg, who will be in the rotation one way or another. He will be on an innings limit and, more likely, will be shutdown in September. Will Washington go to six starters to start the season? Unlikely, and if a trade is not made, one of the starters will have to pitch in the bullpen. It is a great problem to have, as we all know you will need more than five starters over the course of a 162 game season. Tom Gorzelanny is already there as a long reliever. Assuming everybody is healthy, I think it will come down to Lannan and Wang. The problem is, neither really translates to being a reliever well. I think a trade is more likely if everybody proves to be healthy, though I won't rule out an extra long man- sixth starter, which would be either Wang or Lannan.
It is much better to have too many starting pitchers than have the bare minimum, such as their division rival New York Mets. The Mets are one injury away from giving 41 year old Miguel Batista 30 starts for the first time since 2007. You got to like the way the Nationals starting pitching stacks up with the rest of the division. If Bryce Harper makes an immediate impact this year, this team will compete for the NL East and will definitely be in for the NL Wild Card, especially if there is two this year.