Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Stephen Strasburg throws in the bullpen with Davey Johnson watching.
Manager Davey Johnson outlined his entire rotation plans for the first round of exhibition play, which begins Friday with a charity game against Georgetown University.
Matt Purke, the Nationals' third-round pick in last summer's draft, will start that game against the Hoyas, offering the 21-year-old left-hander an opportunity to pitch several innings for perhaps the only time in big-league camp this spring.
Veteran Edwin Jackson will start the March 3 Grapefruit League opener against the Astros in Kissimmee, with Tom Gorzelanny following him out of the bullpen. Strasburg will then take the mound the next afternoon against the same Houston club in Viera, with Ross Detwiler replacing him in relif. It will mark Strasburg's first spring training outing since he made three starts as a rookie in 2010, all of them home games.
If Strasburg remains on a five-day schedule this spring, he will finally hit the road for the first time and face the Marlins March 9 in Jupiter and the Braves March 14 in Lake Buena Vista.
John Lannan will follow Strasburg during the first rotation round, starting March 5 against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, with Craig Stammen relieving him. Fellow lefty Gio Gonzalez is slated to start March 6 at the Braves, with Yunesky Maya coming out of the bullpen after him.
Jordan Zimmermann then starts March 7 against the Cardinals in Viera, with Purke expected to pitch in relief.
The one prominent starter not among those pitching in this first round of games is Chien-Ming Wang. The right-hander, still coming back from major shoulder surgery in 2009, will throw a simulated game March 5 (the same day Lannan starts) and then will join the rotation to face the Mets five days later. Lannan will also start that day, March 10, against the Tigers in a split-squad game.
Obviously, this sets up for Wang and Lannan to compete for the No. 5 starter's job, and Johnson offered a hint of what may happen when asked today about Wang's status.
"Right now, I'm counting on him in the rotation," the manager said. "His delivery is looser, freer than I remember him [last year]."
If Wang wins the final rotation spot and everyone else is healthy, Lannan appears to be the odd man out. The left-hander, slated to make $5 million this season, does have one minor-league option remaining and could open the season at Class AAA Syracuse.
"That's not going to be the deciding factor on who's going to be in the rotation," Johnson insisted. The manager later added: "It's going to be interesting. We've got a lot of good choices, more than we've had in the past."