Few options from left side spotlight importance of Gonzalez (updated)

The Nationals do not want to have to go into their 2013 defense of the National League East crown without left-hander Gio Gonzalez.

This week, however, Gonzalez's name was linked to a South Florida company that allegedly distributed performance-enhancing drugs to pro athletes.

If, in a worst-case scenario, Gonzalez is suspended for any period of time, what kind of options do the Nationals have as a choice for a possible sixth starter?

Free agents Javier Vazquez, Jonathan Sanchez, Joe Saunders and Dallas Braden are possibilities.

Vazquez had minor knee surgery Wednesday. He is a player the Nationals have been looking at for a few months now.

As for left-handed free agents, there are very few remaining that are available, and none would get close to replacing a player like Gonzalez.

Jonathan Sanchez had really down year, there is no way to sugarcoat a 1-9 and an 8.07 ERA.

Saunders, a local product from West Springfield High School and Virginia Tech, pitched for the Orioles at the end of last season, but appears to be too far along in negotiations with other teams for the Nationals to seemingly have a shot. The Orioles, Twins and Tigers have been linked to him, as well as a mystery team.

Braden is recovering from shoulder surgery and is likely not available until the second half of the season.

In house, the Nationals have the likes of Tanner Roark, Yunesky Maya, Ryan Perry, Christian Garcia and Brad Meyers.

Roark has been a workhorse in the minors and has a spring training invite.

Maya has been up before, but it feels like his stuff is not good enough to get major league hitters out at a consistent pace.

Perry was with the Nationals at the start of last season, and after converting from reliever to starter, had some great moments at Double-A Harrisburg and in the Arizona Fall League.

Manager Davey Johnson has mentioned several times that Garcia has the high-velocity stuff to be able to be a starter, and that's how he came into the pros with the Yankees organization.

Meyers was just returned to the Nationals from the Yankees in Rule 5 draft and started 24 games for the Nationals minor league system in 2011. He missed 2012 due to injury but is completely healthy now and ready to go.

The emergence of left-hander Ross Detwiler at the end of the season (10-8, 3.40 ERA) and into the playoffs now becomes critical for the Nationals if Gonzalez is lost for any amount of time.

The southpaw made an indelible mark by subduing the Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, pitching six innings without allowing an earned run. It was his first postseason start.

Detwiler's importance is never more crystal clear than right now with limited options available to the Nationals if Gonzalez were to be suspended.

Update: Left-hander Fernando Abad, a non-roster invitee, could be another starter consideration. He was 0-6 with a 5.09 ERA for the Astros in 37 games last season. He made 31 appearances as a reliever. His 6.45 ERA in six games as a starter is not great, but he did well in the first four innings, until the fifth, when the ERA ballooned to 27.00 ERA. His best outing was against the Cardinals on Sept. 18. Abad went five innings, allowed three runs on six hits with no walks and six strikeouts, but was tagged with the hard luck loss in 4-1 game. His 0-6 record a little deceiving with an Astros team that could not buy runs in 2012.

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