VIERA, Fla. - Right-hander Stephen Strasburg will start the Nationals’ home exhibition opener against the Astros on March 4, with Gio Gonzalez making his first start for the club two days later when the Nats travel to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., to visit the Braves, manager Davey Johnson said Saturday.
Johnson’s announcement completed the first turn of the rotation through Grapefruit League play, and the manager also outlined a tentative schedule of the starting pitchers in camp who will piggyback on the first round of games.
Lefty Tom Gorzelanny will pitch after right-hander Edwin Jackson in the Nationals’ Grapefruit League opener March 3 at Kissimmee, Fla., against the Astros. Southpaw Ross Detwiler will follow Strasburg the next day. Right-hander Craig Stammen will follow lefty John Lannan on March 5 against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla., while right-hander Yuneksy Maya will pitch in relief of Gonzalez on March 6.
Johnson hasn’t figured out who will piggyback right-hander Jordan Zimmermann in a home game against the Cardinals on March 7, but it could be lefty Matt Purke, a third-round pick by the Nats in June’s draft out of TCU. Purke will likely draw the starting assignment when the Nationals host Georgetown on March 2 at Space Coast Stadium and would be on regular rest to follow Zimmermann.
“Right now, I’m getting all the guys I know have the capability to go five innings prepared to go five innings,” said Johnson. “That’s just the way I prepare my long men. You never know. You might have cool weather and somebody gets a little tight while they’re warming up, and boom. We ain’t gonna throw for 30 minutes down there trying to get you loose after you hurt yourself. Let Gorzo start, or whoever I got out there.”
The manager waited to name Purke his pitcher for the game against the college team until he talked to the pitcher, who is in his first spring training camp, to make sure he was used to pitching on at least six days’ rest while at TCU.
Right-hander Chien-Ming Wang, Johnson said, will make his first exhibition start March 10, in the home portion of a split-squad game against the Mets. Lannan will travel to Lakeland, Fla., and throw against the Tigers that day. Yesterday, Johnson announced that Wang would throw a simulated game at Space Coast Stadium on March 5, with Lannan taking that turn in the rotation. However, asked Saturday what his plans for Wang were, Johnson emphatically said he considers Wang, who returned last year after missing most of two years recovering from shoulder surgery, a member of the rotation.
“In my estimation, his delivery and everything is looser, freer and looks more like I remember him (from his Yankees days),” Johnson said of Wang. “He’s more in the strong sinker position. Before, he wasn’t quite there. He looks stronger and better to me this year.”