(Eric Risberg / AP)


Left-handed reliever J.C. Romero will begin the season at Class AAA Syracuse barring an injury, Manager Davey Johnson said, indicating the Nationals plan to begin the season with oft-wild right-hander Henry Rodriguez as part of a bullpen with only one lefty.

However, Johnson seemed to leave open a reasonable possibility that Rodriguez will start the season on the disabled list. Romero will travel with the Nationals to Washington for their exhibition Friday against the New York Yankees. Rodriguez, who underwent elbow surgery last summer, experienced soreness in biceps early this spring, which set back his schedule.

“That’s where we’re at right now,” Johnson said. “Henry is going to pitch tomorrow. … I like the progress. I’ve been pretty clear, I hope, that power arms take longer. A lot of times that’s a psychological thing to overcome. It takes them a little longer to get the feel. The primary concern is stretching their arm out. We’ve been going through that with Henry.”

Johnson then said Rodriguez may not be fully into up to speed until into the regular season. Rodriguez has walked 10 batters, but allowed just four earned runs, in 8 2/3 innings.

“That’s where we’re at,” Johnson said. “But I think he’s closer. He’s making progress. Even with his wildness, his numbers are still pretty good compared to everybody else.”

Romero signed a “split” minor league contract that will pay him a prorated salary of $90,000 during his time in the minors and $850,000 for his major league service time. Romero can also earn up to $650,000 in performance bonuses. Romero can opt out of his contract if he is not on the major league roster by June 1.

The Nationals will probably wait until Rodriguez throws tomorrow to make a final decision on his preparedness. Rival scouts predict the Nationals will choose Romero for the opening day bullpen and start Rodriguez on the disabled list. For now, though, the team is saying Rodriguez is their first choice.

As for the Nationals’ final Grapefruit League game today, every Nationals regular expect Jayson Werth is the lineup. Werth was hit by a pitch yesterday in the left elbow – “the not-so-funny bone,” he said – but he will return tomorrow against the Yankees. Bryce Harper is also back in the lineup after he missed yesterday’s game with minor inflammation in his left thumb. The Nationals will face Mets prospect Domingo Tapia.

1. Denard Span, CF

2. Roger Bernadina RF

3. Bryce Harper, LF

4. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B

5. Adam LaRoche, 1B

6. Ian Desmond, SS

7. Danny Espinosa, 2B

8. Kurt Suzuki, C

9. Gio Gonzalez, SP