How close is Ryan Perry to fifth starter material?

On Saturday afternoon, the Salt River Rafters face Peoria in the championship game of the Arizona Fall League. Converted Nationals reliever Ryan Perry gets the start and could go five innings. The right-hander has a 4.98 ERA in the AFL, but is 2-0 and has allowed a .213 batting average against.

With all the talk of Edwin Jackson, John Lannan or others as the fifth starter, this question can be put out there: Would an outstanding outing help Perry to be considered for that role in 2013?

Could Perry be the arm the Nats would considers to join Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler?

It is only one game, of course, but an outstanding start by Perry will answer a lot of questions. Perry made a nice transition from reliever to starter at Double-A Harrisburg in 2012, going 2-4 with a 2.84 ERA in 13 starts with one complete game.

Harrisburg pitching coach Paul Menhart marveled early in the season about the starter-like stuff that Perry was demonstrating. The former Arizona Wildcat certainly has the tools; now he just has to become a pitcher instead of a thrower, the classic conundrum so many pitchers face in their careers.

So with Salt River facing Peoria for the AFL title Saturday (3:10 p.m. Eastern time, MLB Network), an interesting side story will be to see how Perry can stand up against Billy Hamilton and the Javelinas, with a big chance to become a player in the fifth starter sweepstakes for the Nationals in spring training.

This would then allow general manager Mike Rizzo to head into next month's winter meetings in Nashville feeling better about his staff. He then would not having to worry as much with trying to force a deal for a veteran arm if it is not there.

The answer may be right in his back yard.

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