Fister to make minor league start, cuts coming in next 24 hours (M. Gonzalez released)

VIERA, Fla. - Instead of starting the Nationals’ final Grapefruit League game this spring against the Mets on Thursday, right-hander Doug Fister will instead pitch in a minor league game that day, with Jordan Zimmermann getting the ball at Tradition Field against the Mets.

Fister, who is still working back from right elbow inflammation that caused him to go 19 days in between big league spring starts, is scheduled to throw around 60-65 pitches in the minor league game, manager Matt Williams has said.

The Nationals don’t feel those pitches need to come in a Grapefruit League game, and it sounds like they’d actually prefer they come in a minor league contest, where they can more easily control his pitch count and the type of innings he works.

“Just to make sure that he’s good,” Williams said. “At this point, we want to make sure we can get him clean innings to build him. We can just control it a little bit more. And that’s fine. He’s a pro. He knows what he’s doing. That’s the only reason behind it.”

Minor league spring games are loosely structured and can be adjusted so that, for example, a hitter gets two at-bats in an inning, or a frame ends without three outs having been recorded so that a pitcher’s pitch count doesn’t elevate too quickly.

The Nats’ throwing schedule will also allow Zimmermann to face big league hitters leading up to his first regular season start, which will come April 3 against the Mets. Zimmermann last pitched on Saturday, throwing five innings in a minor league game.

Meanwhile, Williams said that the Nats might end up making some cuts in the next 24 hours, either after today’s game, before tomorrow’s game, or both.

The Nats have eight cuts left to make before reaching their 25-man roster, but they might not end up deciding on their fifth starter until after Fister makes his Thursday start in the minor league game.

If Fister doesn’t come through that start feeling good, then the Nats would likely have both Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan take rotation spots to begin the season, until Fister is healthy and his arm strength is built up.

Should Fister make it through his Thursday outing feeling OK, then the Nats will decide between Roark and Jordan for their final available rotation spot.

Update: So much for waiting until after the game.

The Nationals announced they’ve released left-handed reliever Michael Gonzalez, leaving them with seven cuts left to make before they get to their 25-man roster.

Gonzalez signed a minor league deal with the Nats earlier this month, but was looking in from the outside of the battle for the team’s final bullpen spot.

The 35-year-old allowed four runs on seven hits in four spring innings, with five strikeouts and a walk.

The Nats now have two, possibly three, pitchers competing for the final spot in their bullpen: lefty Xavier Cedeno and righties Aaron Barrett and Roark.

If the final rotation spot is awarded to Jordan, Roark is in the mix for the last bullpen job.

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