Notes on Gonzalez's pitch limit, rotation possibilities

KISSIMMEE, Fla. - The World Baseball Classic has established fairly strict pitch-limit rules in order to avoid pitchers getting overused during the tournament.

Some of these rules are incredibly tough to understand. The language is very dense, and even after reading over the pitch-limit restrictions a few times, I still don't completely have a grasp of how they should be interpreted.

It sounds like Team USA's coaching staff and the Nationals might be in the same boat that I am. Nationals manager Davey Johnson received a call yesterday from Team USA manager Joe Torre, pitching coach Greg Maddux and bullpen coach Marcel Lachemann, and the men discussed how Gio Gonzalez should be used during his start this afternoon, which will be the left-hander's final outing before he joins Team USA.

They determined that to be safe, Gonzalez will be held on a 50-pitch limit today, just to make sure he doesn't violate any WBC rules that would preclude him from making his March 12 scheduled start for Team USA.

There is a rule that if a pitcher throws 50 or more pitches during a game, he then cannot be used in the WBC for a minimum of four days. March 12 is five days from now, however, so he would appear to be in the clear there.

But the Nats and Team USA are apparently taking a better-safe-than-sorry approach. Gonzalez will be held to under 50 pitches against the Astros this afternoon, and then could end up throwing additional pitches in the bullpen following his start if the Nationals want to build him up to 60 or 70 pitches.

"I think we could be over 50 and still be in line, because he's going to pitch the 12th, the first game out of the second (round)," Johnson said. "But that's why he'll be on a short leash today."

Glad we got all that cleared up. Or not.

We know that Chris Young will slide into Ross Detwiler's spot in the Nationals' spring rotation with Detwiler already out in Arizona with Team USA (Young will start for the Nats on Saturday), but we don't know who will take Gonzalez's place in the Nats' rotation once he departs.

Johnson said today that he hasn't decided on who will take Gonzalez's spot, but there appear to be three candidates - Ross Ohlendorf, Nathan Karns and Ryan Perry.

Ohlendorf is scheduled to piggyback Gonzalez today, coming on in relief once Gonzalez is done. Karns has been battling some tightness in his right leg, which limited him to one inning his last time out, but he's scheduled to appear in relief in tomorrow's game, as is Perry.

Because the Nationals have an off-day on the 12th, that would allow either Karns or Perry to get the start the following day on normal rest. If Ohlendorf ends up getting the start, he would be working on five days' rest.

Ohlendorf has pitched to a 5.40 ERA with five strikeouts in five spring innings, Karns has pitched three scoreless innings with two hits, two walks and three strikeouts and Perry has allowed five runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings.

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