Nationals have rotation set, still could add starting depth

December 5, 2012

Christian Garcia. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The Nationals were defined last season by their ability to withstand injury. As position player after position player landed on the disabled list, new faces from the minor leagues kept the Nationals on top of the National League East. Steve Lombardozzi played left, Tyler Moore started hitting homers, Danny Espinosa moved to short. Whatever the circumstance, the Nationals kept winning.

Bad injury luck struck the Nationals lineup, but in one respect they actually received a stroke of good fortune. Attrition never wracked their starting rotation. From opening day to Game 162, none of the starters who began the season in the starting missed a turn unless the Nationals decided on it. The same five starters stayed healthy all year, a remarkably lucky and rare event.

The Nationals finalized their starting five yesterday when they signed Dan Haren, but General Manager Mike Rizzo is still thinking about adding another, lower-echelon starter. The Nationals never needed their rotation depth until they voluntarily shut down Stephen Strasburg. He has no limits this year, but the fickle nature of health for pitchers demands the Nationals be prepared for absorbing an injury to their rotation.

The Nationals could still add another Class AAA starter, Rizzo said yesterday. But they have some options already. Zach Duke will serve as the Nationals’ long man, but he could spot start, too, after starting for almost his entire career. Davey Johnson is a major advocate for making Christian Garcia into a starter. Garcia will probably land in the Nationals’ bullpen, but he will take on a starter’s workload in spring training to prepare him for the possibility of replacing an injury starter.

“I think Zach Duke gives us insurance in that area if something happens,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “We’ve got some guys in AAA that are just coming up that I haven’t seen that much. But I really think that the main guy that I think can do it is Christian Garcia.”

Ryan Perry, whose conversion from a starter to a reliever continued in the Arizona Fall League, will likely start the year at Class AAA Syracuse’s rotation. So will Yunesky Maya, who has struggled in the majors but would not be a disaster in the No. 9 starter role.

With Duke, Garcia, Perry and Maya, the Nationals are pretty well set. But they could still try to bolster that depth before the winter ends.  

“We feel good about our depth,” Rizzo said. “Feeling good about it and being satisfied with it are two different things in my mind.”

>>> We mentioned Monday that the Nationals had discussed J.P. Howelll as an option to find the left-hander the Nationals want to add to their bullpen to replace Sean Burnett. The Nationals are going after Howell now, a team official said. Howell told MLB.com he would be interested in playing for  the Nationals. “If I could fit on the ride, that would be amazing,” Howell told the official web site.

>>> Nothing new on the Adam LaRoche front from last night to this morning. The Nationals are hoping to accomplish one more task before the meetings end — either re-signing LaRoche, trading Michael Morse or signing a left-handed reliever. For now, it still seems quiet on the LaRoche front.

Adam Kilgore covers the Nationals for The Washington Post.
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Adam Kilgore · December 4, 2012

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