While Jordan Zimmermann is listed as the starting pitcher for the Nationals' home opener this afternoon, manager Matt Williams has a backup plan ready to go, just in case the right-hander hasn't completely shaken the flu-like symptoms that caused him to be scratched from yesterday's assignment at the Mets.
Zimmermann reported to Nationals Park around 9:35 a.m. on Friday and told manager Matt Williams and the team's training staff that his fever broke around 11 p.m. Thursday night. But Williams has right-hander Craig Stammen on call if Zimmermann experiences any aftereffects of the bug that's been running rampant in the clubhouse since midway through spring training.
"He feels 100 times better today than he did yesterday," Williams said of Zimmermann. "He said he's good to go, but we have to evaluate this morning just to make sure. So as of right now, we're just kind of seeing how he is. He's scheduled to pitch, but that can change."
Williams wants to see how Zimmermann feels once he gets "heated up" and the manager is concerned that his scheduled starting pitcher might feel fine now, but lose strength and energy as the day wears on.
Being a meticulous planner of all things, Williams has been knocking around possible alternatives for today's game since the Nationals scratched Zimmermann yesterday. Righty Taylor Jordan can't be pushed up from Saturday's scheduled start because the Nats are concerned about pitching him on short rest. A bullpen game - where relievers would piece together nine innings to keep the remainder of the starting rotation on normal rest - was assumed to be tops on his list, with lefty Ross Detwiler getting the call to start the home opener.
But that plan went out the window in yesterday's seventh inning, when Detwiler came on in relief of starter Tanner Roark. Detwiler worked two innings, which all but removed him from consideration for today's starting assignment. Williams said he was concerned about holding Detwiler back because if he didn't pitch yesterday or today, he'd have gone at least four games into the regular season without appearing in a game. Detwiler, however, might be able to work a batter or two in a pinch this afternoon, though the Nats would probably prefer to rest him.
That led Williams to Stammen, his dependable bullpen swingman who has made 38 career major league starts, though none since 2010. Stammen has pitched once this season, working the final inning of Wednesday's game against the Mets.
"I think ... Stammen would probably start the game if (Zimmermann) can't go," Williams said. "But we'll see how that goes. If we have to make a change, we'll evaluate that."
Cobbling together nine innings from his relief corps would solve the immediate problem of today's start, but could have lingering effects for the rest of the weekend series against the Braves. Williams risks overworking his bullpen arms in the season's fourth game, though a scheduled Monday off-day would offer some relief.
"That's something you have to keep in mind and something you have to look at," Williams said. "But we have to play today, so we'll have to do today and see what tomorrow looks (like) if we have to go that direction. If Jordan can go, he'll go."