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With Ross Detwiler set to come off the disabled list Thursday and Stephen Strasburg on course to be activated Sunday, the Nationals will turn tonight to Ross Ohlendorf against the Rockies at Coors Field.
Ohlendorf, 30, is no stranger to the big leagues. He's made 108 appearances, 73 of them starts, over the last six seasons with the Yankees, Pirates and Padres. But it's been a while since he's had success at this level. An 11-game winner with a 3.92 ERA for Pittsburgh in 2009, he's gone 6-18 with a 5.80 ERA in 43 major-league games since, his career derailed by shoulder injuries.
But the Nationals gave Ohlendorf a shot this spring on a minor-league deal and he took advantage of the opportunity at Syracuse. Over his last three starts, the right-hander allowed only three runs on nine hits over 17 1/3 innings, racking up 27 strikeouts along the way.
Will that recent success against Class AAA lineups translate to the big leagues, particularly against the Rockies lineup at Coors Field? It's not a particularly encouraging matchup, considering the fact Ohlendorf in his career gives up 1.3 homers per nine innings while striking out only 6.4 batters.
The Nationals, though, merely need to get through this game to get their original rotation back intact. Win or lose, Ohlendorf is all but certain to head back to the minors after this spot start, with Detwiler returning from an oblique strain to start Thursday's series finale in Colorado.
Strasburg, meanwhile, pitched a simulated game yesterday afternoon and is scheduled to return from his lat strain to start Sunday in Cleveland, giving the Nationals all five of their Opening Day starters back on the active roster.
That also spells the end, for now, of Nate Karns' time in the big leagues. The right-hander will be optioned back to Class AA Harrisburg to make room for Ohlendorf after three up-and-down starts in which he flashed glimpses of the power arm who could succeed at this level but was done in by 17 hits (five of them homers) in only 12 innings.
Karns should get another shot with the Nationals down the road. Certainly he looks like he could use a bit more seasoning, especially against more-experienced hitters at the Class AAA level at some point, but he showed enough to suggest he can be a valuable piece to this puzzle in the long-term.
Right now, the Nationals are more concerned with the short-term. After last night's 8-3 loss, they're back under the .500 mark, still trying to engineer some sort of sustained roll. Lack of offense remains Davey Johnson's biggest problem, but he won't complain about getting his full, five-man rotation back healthy.
That day has just about come for Johnson and the Nationals. First, though, they need to find a way to get through one last fill-in start tonight.