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Joel Hanrahan awesome, Zimmerman removed

Before we get to the Joel Hanrahan stuff, a quick update: Ryan Zimmerman was removed from tonight's game against the Braves here at Disney with right hip flexor tightness. The club said it was a precautionary move. Zimmerman, I believe, suffered the injury while running to first base after a dropped third strike following his fourth at-bat (he also grounded out twice and singled).

I'll get the requisite updates after the game.

Jim Bowden said before tonight's game against the Braves that, at this point, it's likely the Nationals will head north with four starting pitchers and seven relievers for an 11-man staff, albeit in an unconventional way. I'm going to get into this in tomorrow's paper, but the short version is, because of two off days in the first 10 days of the season, they could bring back two guys -- whoever starts the third and fourth games of the season -- on three days' rest, then not need a fifth starter until April 13.

(That, then, would likely be Shawn Hill's turn. But again, we'll get into that in the paper.)

So, who would the seven men in the bullpen be?

Let me start by saying that Joel Hanrahan just threw three innings against the Braves. He allowed a single to Mark Kotsay. But he struck out eight of the 10 hitters he faced, including the last seven.

Let that sink in.

That performance included striking out Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira and Jeff Francoeur in order in the sixth. Not too shabby. Hanrahan's numbers in five relief appearances this spring, you ask? That would be 7-2/3 innings pitched with two hits allowed, one walk and 12 strikeouts.

So back to that bullpen.

Here are your six top candidates:

Chad Cordero
Jon Rauch
Luis Ayala
Saul Rivera
Jesus Colome (who Manny Acta said is basically on the team given his first half last year)
Ray King

That would leave one spot for, it would seem, either Chris Schroder or Hanrahan. (Yes, guys like Arnie Munoz and Steven Shell (who has impressed) are still around, but I'd still be surprised if those guys made it.)

Schroder has options left. Hanrahan, I am 98 percent sure, does not.

Mull that over for a while. We'll play a true game of pick the roster when we reach two weeks before the opener, which is Sunday.

John Patterson: He said he was happy with how he threw, though his velocity was around 85-87 mph with his fastball. Considering how much we obsessed about Patterson's velocity early last season, it seems odd to downplay that angle now, but that's what the club is doing.

"If I was obsessing about it, I'd have stood out there and tried to throw it through the wall," Patterson said after he came out. "I'm pitching. That's important for me right now, to just pitch with what I have until my arm strength comes."

Jim Bowden, before the game: "Arm action, arm speed out front. The rest comes. I've had pitchers that when they're coming back have thrown 84-86 for three months, and eventually the arm strength comes, but the delivery and the arm action tells you before the arm stretnch is built up. That's what we look for. And the last time out he had it."

More Bowden: "We're not worried about the velocity right now. We're worried about the arm action - the rest will come in time. It may be May or June before he's back to what he was a few years ago, but as long as everything else is in place, we can build up to that."

Manny Acta: "Obviously, his velocity is not going to be back to where it was a couple of years ago right away. So all we need is for him to be able to have the extenstion, the freedom, to be able to locate and have command, because that's an indication that at least he's healthy. He doesn't have to be come back throwing 92-93 for us to make the decision on him."

So there's that. Patterson was also asked if he would like to pitch the opener, given the fact that Hill is unlikely.

"It's a big day," Patterson said. "It's going to be a really important day for the city of Washington, and I would like to have that start. I think it would be a great honor to earn that after everything that's gone on the last couple of years to show them that I can pitch again, and for them to have the confidence to give me that start. But I think I'm going to have to earn it. I don't think they're going to give it to anybody."

Arnie Munoz was just chucking it all over the place in the eighth, and Ayala came in to pick him up.

It's 2-0 Nationals -- RBI from Bret Boone (double off Glavine) and Jusus Flores) in the bottom of the eighth. Unless something drastic happens, I'll talk to you tomorrow.

By Barry Svrluga  |  March 11, 2008; 9:17 PM ET
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