If Young leaves, Duke will step into sixth starter’s role (with lineups)

JUPITER, Fla. - As I mentioned earlier, Sports Illustrated has picked the Nationals to win the World Series.

Your thoughts, Davey Johnson?

“I don’t care. It’s nice,” Johnson said. “Better than being picked to come in last.”

The Nationals have known for a little while now that Chris Young would almost certainly be opting out of his minor league contract and seeing whether he could find a spot in a big league rotation somewhere.

Now that Young has done just that, and he’s been granted his unconditional release, the Nats are preparing for life without him.

From the Nats’ perspective, an ideal scenario would be that Young is unable to land a big league contract and returns on another minor league deal, providing rotation depth at Triple-A Syracuse. The chances of that happening, however, appear slim.

“Obviously, if he can get a big league starting job, he’s gone,” Johnson said. “So I think that’s all up to him, I guess. He’d be awful good insurance.”

As Zach Duke strolled by Johnson and the group of reporters surrounding him, the Nats skipper was asked who would be his sixth starter if Young does indeed land a job with another organization.

“He just walked by, probably,” Johnson said.

Prior to 2011, Duke had made just one big league relief appearance in his career, starting 158 games. Over the last two seasons, however, Duke has started just nine games and made 20 relief appearances.

Duke worked out of Syracuse’s rotation for the bulk of last season before joining the Nats in September. He then worked out of the bullpen for the remainder of the regular season, posting a 1.32 ERA and a 10-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 13 2/3 innings.

In that relatively small sample size, the 29-year-old has proven that he can be effective in relief, but Johnson expects the transition to the bullpen to still be something Duke will need to adjust to.

“Zach’s still learning how to pitch out of the ‘pen,” Johnson said. “He’s been a starter his whole life. I thought he did a good job last year coming in in relief. But it’ll be a learning experience for me and him in how much he can do coming out of there since he’s the only (left-hander) out there. ...

“Some (former starters) just can’t. It’s kind of a block. But Gorzo (Tom Gorzelanny) did it and was very successful at it last year.”

Johnson hopes to use Duke much in the role that he used Gorzelanny last season, often piggybacking him after a right-handed starter. But because Duke is currently the only lefty in the ‘pen, that might change a bit based on the situation or the opponent.

“Yeah, just depends,” Johnson said. “It used to be you’d hold your lefties out for Philly and Atlanta. Now, Atlanta’s a little more balanced. So it just depends on what we’re up against.”

Johnson announced that minor league right-hander Taylor Jordan will start the other half of tomorrow’s split-squad game here in Jupiter. Ross Detwiler will start the home half against the Braves.

After working 2/3 of an inning last night, Drew Storen will pitch to minor leaguers today, giving him work in back-to-back days for the first time this spring.

Rafael Soriano will work his final two spring innings over the next two days, giving him a back-to-back before the regular season starts. Henry Rodriguez will pitch again tomorrow after walking one and striking out two last night.

For the Nats
CF Denard Span
RF Jayson Werth
LF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
C Wilson Ramos
P Dan Haren

For the Marlins
LF Juan Pierre
3B Placido Polanco
RF Giancarlo Stanton
1B Greg Dobbs
CF Justin Ruggiano
C Rob Brantly
2B Chris Valaika
SS Adeiny Hechavarria
P Henderson Alvarez

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