Something unusual will occur Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park: A pitcher who wasn't on the Opening Day roster will start against the Padres, the first time that's happened this season.
With Tom Gorzelanny going on the 15-day disabled list with left elbow inflammation, the Nationals finally find themselves needing to promote a starter from their farm system. Though a formal announcement wasn't made Saturday, right-hander Yunesky Maya is expected to be recalled from Class AAA Syracuse.
The Nationals had been the majors' lone remaining club to use only five starting pitchers so far this season, a rare display of consistency from a franchise that has seen plenty of rotation turnover through the years.
Never before had the Nationals made it this deep into a season needing only five starters. In fact, they've never made it through a season using less than 11 starters and last season used 14. The fact Livan Hernandez, John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Jordan Zimmermann and Gorzelanny all made it this far without missing a start hasn't been lost on team officials.
"That's big," manager Jim Riggleman said. "That doesn't happen anymore in today's world, unfortunately. Very few teams go weeks, never mind we've gone a couple months, with the same five guys making every start, and going pretty deep in the game every time."
There were no shortage of candidates at Syracuse to replace Gorzelanny in the rotation. Maya (1-4, 3.79 ERA in nine starts) would beat out left-handers Ross Detwiler (3-4, 5.77) and Tom Milone (3-3, 3.78) and right-hander Brad Meyers (6-2, 2.72, 57-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 10 combined starts between Syracuse and Class AA Harrisburg).
Ultimately, Maya makes the most sense because of his past big-league experience, current spot on the 40-man roster and the fact he can start Sunday on five days' rest.
The Nationals don't expect Gorzelanny's DL stint to be a long one. The left-hander said he experienced no arm issues until Tuesday, when he tried to play catch the day after starting in Milwaukee.
"Just felt more like I hyper-extended my elbow, or one of those things," he said. "Every time I hit the extension point, it was a little sore."
Gorzelanny did throw again Thursday, and though his arm felt better than the previous time, it still wasn't 100 percent. An enhanced MRI revealed no structural damage, only inflammation of the elbow, but the Nationals decided to take the cautious route and put the left-hander on the shelf for two weeks.
Riggleman said the club was planning to give Gorzelanny a break at some point this season, as they did with Zimmermann in skipping over his turn once earlier this month.
"We try to do it with just about everyone anyways," the manager said. "So while he's got a little tenderness, this is the time to do it."
Gorzelanny has dealt with elbow pain before. After a breakthrough 2007 season in which he won 14 games for the Pirates, he returned the following spring having gained weight and reporting soreness in his elbow. He wound up on the DL during spring training with what was termed "minor inflammation" and struggled the entire season.
"I just hid it and said, 'I'm fine, I'll throw,'" he said. "It was a bad decision on my part, and I paid for it for a couple years -- physically for that year, but mentally for the next couple years. It happened again, but I'm a little bit smarter now, a little more of an adult now, just want to take care of it."