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Gio Gonzalez to start Friday; Denard Span visits back specialist

Gio Gonzalez. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The Nationals revealed one part of their weekend rotation against the Orioles — Gio Gonzalez will start Friday in Baltimore, the team announced — but starters for Saturday and Sunday remain unannounced. Several factors may be contributing to the uncertainty. Jordan Zimmermann, whose wife is expecting their second child soon, was originally scheduled to start after Gonzalez. Doug Fister and Max Scherzer could start Saturday and Sunday, respectively, on regular rest. If he doesn’t pitch Sunday, Scherzer could start Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Cincinnati, but the Nationals have hinted they want their ace to pitch for them as often as possible.

Other parts of the roster have been in flux. Setup man David Carpenter rejoined the team Thursday from paternity leave, sending long reliever Taylor Hill back to Class AAA Syracuse after only one day.

The Nationals could be forced to make another roster move if center fielder Denard Span lands on the disabled list. Span, who has suffered recurring back spasms for a month, was scheduled to meet with a back specialist Thursday to get a second opinion on an MRI exam of his back.

According to a person familiar with the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced anything publicly, the initial exam revealed nothing serious, but the Nationals and Span felt it was best to get a specialist’s diagnosis and suggested treatment. Although specifics were not immediately known, a person familiar with the situation said Thursday’s appointment was encouraging.

Span has said he will not play this weekend in Baltimore, and thanks to the pending all-star break, Span could get 11 days off without being put on the disabled list. If he does end up there, the soonest he could be back is July 22.

Just in case, the Nationals have brought infield prospect Wilmer Difo up from Class AA Harrisburg, according to another person familiar with the situation. It is unclear, however, if Difo will be active for the Baltimore series. Difo, who is hitting .286 with Harrisburg, could be protection for a bench that has been short two players this week while Span and Yunel Escobar nursed injuries. By all indications Wednesday, Escobar was recovering from his tight left hamstring, and he said he hoped to play again in the Baltimore series.

Another roster move could be coming this weekend, too. Aaron Barrett, recovering from his biceps strain, was scheduled to make a minor league rehab appearance Thursday, the first game of back-to-back days of pitching in his return. If he has no issues, he could soon rejoin the Nationals.