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Davey Johnson believes Nationals have potential to be best pitching staff in NL

JUPITER -- Davey Johnson once managed of the best young pitching staffs in baseball and won a World Series with them in 1986.

The group he has now with the Washington Nationals isn't too shabby either. In fact, he thinks it has the potential to be the best in the National League (and yes, that includes the Phillies).

"I'd take my five or six guys over anybody, any staff in the league, based on potential," Johnson said Friday, a couple hours before Stephen Strasburg faced the Marlins. "Our top three stacks up pretty well with [the Phillies] top three. Collectively, our guys are just a little cheaper."

Most scouts agree and say because of that stacked rotation the Nationals and not the Marlins are the second-best team in the National League East.

After Strasburg, the 23-year old hard-throwing right-hander who was the first pick of the 2009 draft, Johnson has 26-year old left-hander Gio Gonzalez, an All-Star last season with the A's, 25-year old right-hander Jordan Zimmerman (8-11, 3.18 ERA in 2011) and 28-year old veteran right-hander Edwin Jackson (12-9, 3.79 ERA in 2011) penciled into his starting rotation.

The fifth spot in the rotation will go to either 31-year old right-hander Chien Ming-Wang (4-3, 4.04 ERA in 2011) or 27-year old left-hander John Lannan (10-13, 3.70 ERA in 2011). Nationals writers expect Ming-Wang to win the job in part because Lannan could be optioned down to the minors.

Last season, the Nationals owned one of the stingiest bullpens in baseball. They finished 31-23 with a 3.20 ERA. Only the Braves, Padres, Giants and Yankees had better pens in terms of ERA. Closer Drew Storen's 43 saves were tied with new Marlins closer Heath Bell for the sixth-most in baseball.

> Former Marlins reserve outfielder Brett Carroll, signed by the Nationals as a minor league free agent, is a player Johnson likes a lot and could end up making the 25-man roster if he can win the fifth spot on the bench.

The Nationals used had two former Marlins on their roster last season -- catcher Ivan Rodriguez and pitcher Livan Hernandez. Both are no longer with the team.

"It's definitely exciting to be on this team," said Carroll, who played in 173 games for the Marlins from 2007 to 2010. "They're definitely different than when I was with the Marlins. There is a lot of talent in that clubhouse."

> The Marlins sent 2009 first round pick Chad James down to the minors Friday. The 21-year old left-hander wasn't expected to make the team. He went 5-15 with a 3.80 ERA in Single A Jupiter last season in 27 starts.