PITTSBURGH — Jacob Turner will start for the Washington Nationals on Wednesday, Manager Dusty Baker confirmed after Tuesday night’s win. The big righty has been serving as a middle man in the Nationals’ bullpen, where he has a 2.61 ERA in 10 1/3 innings. Turner has made one start for the Nationals, and though he made it in hitter-friendly Colorado, he allowed three runs in six strong innings to convince the Nationals he should stay.
Turner was a nonroster invitee to spring training, a 25-year-old former first-round pick the Nationals hoped they could solve, once and for all. So far, it seems they have at least helped him build consistency and confidence, and might have found an interim fifth starter as Joe Ross reestablishes himself in Class AAA Syracuse. Because Turner was needed in the bullpen over the past two weeks, A.J. Cole made two starts in that spot. Moving Turner back into the rotation allows the Nationals to keep their pitching staff intact, requires no roster move, and gives them a chance to see whether Turner can fill their need for a long-term fifth starter.
Because Turner signed as a minor league free agent, he cannot be optioned to Syracuse without first clearing waivers — not a given after his start at Coors Field. So the Nationals must keep him or risk losing him if they have no spot for him on the major league roster. So far, he has created a spot, and pitched himself into one for the foreseeable future.
Ross was on turn to start Wednesday, and could have been called up for the occasion, but he is still working through mechanical trouble in Syracuse. He will start there Wednesday. Top pitching prospect Erick Fedde seemed ripe for a call-up, and was also on turn to start Wednesday, but the Nationals have moved him to the bullpen. They have no obvious minor league options for spot starts outside of Cole and Austin Voth, who has yet to make a major league start.
The Nationals do not need a fifth starter during their next turn through the rotation, as they have another day off Monday, which would be Turner’s next chance. Perhaps he will swing between the bullpen and the rotation as needed, since opportunities to skip a fifth starter pop up fairly often. Perhaps the Nationals will choose to keep him as a starter. No one has said for sure. For now, Turner will start Wednesday against Pirates right-hander Gerritt Cole, and the Nationals will take things from there.