Jordan reacts to starting Nats’ spring opener, plus Friday and Saturday pitching probables

VIERA, Fla. - Matt Williams has posted the pitching probables for the Nationals’ first two Grapefruit League games, starting with Friday’s game at Port St. Lucie against the Mets.

As I mentioned yesterday, right-hander Taylor Jordan will get the start on Friday, and Jordan said today that he’s been told he’ll throw two innings.

Here’s are the pitchers scheduled to follow Jordan to the mound on Friday (the order of the pitchers can sometimes change, and not everyone is guaranteed to pitch): A.J. Cole, Christian Garcia, Xavier Cedeno, Manny Delcarmen, Aaron Barrett, Danny Rosenbaum and Tyler Robertson.

One would assume that Cole will also get two innings of work as the Nationals build up the 22-year-old starter’s workload.

Ross Detwiler and Tanner Roark will both stay in Viera and throw bullpens on Friday, keeping them on the same throwing schedule as Jordan. Those three are considered the main candidates for the Nationals’ fifth starter job.

As for Saturday’s Grapefruit League home opener against the Braves, Jordan Zimmermann will get the start. He’s scheduled to be followed by Matt Purke, Josh Roenicke, Clay Hensley, Luis Ayala, Felipe Rivero and Gabriel Alfaro.

Stephen Strasburg will throw live batting practice today and then will have a bullpen session on Saturday.

Meanwhile, it would be fair to say that Jordan didn’t expect that he’d be starting the Nats’ spring opener against the Mets. Pitching coach Steve McCatty gave Jordan the word yesterday, and the 25-year-old righty was thrilled to get the assignment.

“It was really cool when Cat told me yesterday,” Jordan said. “I was kind of surprised. He came up to me nonchalant. ‘You’re starting Friday.’ I was like, ‘OK!’ “

Jordan was slowed early this offseason by a broken ankle, but he says that he’s feeling great physically at this point. He threw his first full live batting practice session yesterday after his first scheduled session was rained out over the weekend, and liked how the session went overall.

“I think I’m getting there,” Jordan said. “My location, my control is getting better. I feel great. I’m just now starting to ... I kind of toned it back a little bit. I think I started my slider a little too early. I was just getting tightness in the forearm from snapping (the ball), so I kind of laid off for a little bit. Yesterday was the first time I threw my slider in the bullpen and also in live batting practice. So it’s a work in progress. You definitely see it there. It’s hit or miss right now.”

Jordan relies heavily on his two-seam fastball that gets good sink, but he also mixes in a changeup and a slider. Asked where he wants to see improvements in his game, Jordan singled out the slider as something that will be key to his development, especially when facing right-handed hitters.

“I would love to get my slider back,” he said. “I know it can be a good pitch. Just need to kind of get that more consistent.”

The fact that Jordan is even in contention for the No. 5 spot in the Nats’ rotation is surprising given where he was at this time last year. A year removed from Tommy John surgery and having finished the 2012 season a low Single-A Hagerstown, Jordan spent last spring in the Nats’ minor league camp. He started the 2013 season at high Single-A Potomac, was promoted to Double-A Harrisburg after just six starts, and then made his big league debut in late June.

Jordan made nine starts with the Nats before being shut down due to his post-Tommy John innings limit, and posted a 3.66 ERA with 29 strikeouts and 11 walks in 51 2/3 big league innings.

His career has gone somewhat backwards in that he had a solid stint in the majors before ever being invited to big league spring training, but he finds himself in big league camp this year, ready to compete for a full-time spot in the Nats’ rotation.

“My career’s been pretty slow since I’ve been drafted,” Jordan said. “I wasn’t always doing the right things my first two years. Just kind of being a rebel and being young, also. But then whenever you start going with the program and the system, that’s when my maturity started kicking in, when I started to listen to them.”

It wasn’t that Jordan never listened to the Nationals’ minor league coaches and instructors, he says. It’s that he just picked his spots and decided when he wanted to listen.

“They’d go tell me to run or something and I might cut that short or try and find a way out of it, maybe,” Jordan said. “But that was my first two years, I was young and immature.

“I just matured. I don’t know where it came from. One day it just clicked for me.”

Jordan says he isn’t stressing about where he’ll wind up starting the season, saying that if he ends up at Triple-A Syracuse or even Double-A Harrisburg, he’ll take the assignment and keep working. For now, he’s just enjoying the ride.

“I’m very excited I’m here,” Jordan said. “It’s my first big league spring training invite. Definitely here to show ‘em what I got.”

He’ll get a chance on Friday in Port St. Lucie.

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