Nats still searching for some starting depth

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A number of Nationals executives have bolted town, content to take care of any lingering business in D.C. with the Winter Meetings set to wrap up tomorrow morning.

One area they'll still look to tackle from back home is starting pitching depth.

In addition to reaching some sort of resolution with Adam LaRoche and searching for a left-handed reliever, general manager Mike Rizzo is still on the lookout for a starter that the Nats can stash at Triple-A to provide insurance behind their starting five of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren (assuming Haren passes his physical).

It's not something which will make major headlines, but those signings can prove valuable.

"We're probably looking more to pick up some guys in the minor leagues and some young starters in Triple-A. Or maybe a veteran-type, who would take an assignment a la Zach Duke," manager Davey Johnson said before leaving Nashville today.

The Nationals were lucky last season that none of the five starting pitchers that opened the season in their rotation had to go on the disabled list, but they can't expect to have that happen again.

A guy is bound to get injured at some point, and when he does, it helps to have viable options waiting at Triple-A or in the bullpen.

Duke will be one of those guys, as he's re-signed to serve as the left-handed long-reliever/spot starter. Craig Stammen can fill in as a starter if needed, as well. Ryan Perry has pitched in the majors and looked pretty good in the minors last year after being converted to a starter. And the Nats are high on Christian Garcia, who will be stretched out in spring and used as organizational depth as a starter, as well.

In addition to those hurlers, the Nats would like to round out their Triple-A rotation with even more guys with some major league experience under their belt.

"A lot of (Rizzo's), I don't want to call them reclamation projects, (like Michael) Gonzalez, he's very good at picking out those kind of guys," Johnson said. "And I think with what we got going on in Washington now, I think there's more guys that see that there is an opportunity. When free agents see a guy like Gonzalez came in, got called up - same way with Zach Duke - they re-sign with us.

"And they look at my infield and see I've got a good infield, good catching, now a real good outfield defense. So it's a good place to play."

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