Nats planning to start Guthrie on Saturday in Philadelphia

Though the Nationals haven’t announced anything yet, Jeremy Guthrie is lined up to start Saturday’s game against the Phillies, completing a remarkable journey back to the big leagues as a member of one of baseball’s best rotations.

The club announced Max Scherzer as the starter for Friday afternoon’s game at Citizens Bank Park, with Stephen Strasburg pitching Sunday’s series finale (and thus getting an extra day of rest after his opening day start Monday).

Saturday’s starter is “TBA” for now, but manager Dusty Baker said the team has made its decision and is just waiting to make an announcement, in part waiting to make sure today’s game against the Marlins doesn’t get rained out (which would allow Gio Gonzalez to pitch Friday and Scherzer to pitch Saturday instead).

Guthrie-Throws-Red-Sidebar.jpgBarring a rainout, Guthrie is the choice for Saturday’s assignment, according to sources familiar with the decision. Right-hander Joe Ross isn’t eligible to be recalled from Triple-A Syracuse yet, because players optioned to the minors must wait 10 days before returning (unless they are replacing an injured teammate). Ross can’t be called up until April 12 at the earliest.

Without making any official declarations, Baker did praise Guthrie today and made it clear the Nationals intend to call him up from minor league camp at some point in the near future.

“He threw the ball very good (this spring),” the manager said. “This is one reason why we kept him in the system as well. There’s going to be times when we’re going to need that spot start from certain people. Or especially later on when we go to Colorado (in late April), you probably want to carry another pitcher. Yeah, he’s in our plans.”

Guthrie, who happens to be turning 38 on Saturday, was perhaps the biggest surprise of the spring. Signed to a minor league contract after posting a 6.57 ERA with two different Triple-A affiliates last season and then pitching in Australia over the winter, he posted a 2.41 ERA in the Grapefruit League and made his case to be the Nationals long reliever.

In the end, the Nats elected not to carry a long man for the season’s first week, but they do need a fifth starter this weekend. They could call up Guthrie, who has been working out this week at the club’s complex in West Palm Beach, to make this start and then keep him in their bullpen until the fifth starter’s spot is needed again April 22.

At that point, the Nationals would decide whether to recall Ross and whether to keep Guthrie on the staff or not.

No matter how things play out from here, Baker said Guthrie deserves the opportunity to pitch for him.

“He earned it,” the manager said. “That was the thing. And he went to Australia to try to get his stuff back together to try to start strong. I mean, I wouldn’t mind going to Australia. He’s worked hard. And he has a good attitude about things. He has a very good attitude. I didn’t know him before, but he’s a good teammate-type guy.”

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