Rotation order taking shape, Taylor still away from team

JUPITER, Fla. - Though they haven't formally announced anything yet, the Nationals have lined up their rotation in an order that would put Stephen Strasburg on the mound for opening day, with Tanner Roark and Max Scherzer to follow.

Scherzer's recovery from a stress fracture in his right ring finger threw something of a wrench into the club's ideal plans, which would have been to let the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner start opening day (April 3 against the Marlins). But with Scherzer only making his first Grapefruit League start today, the Nationals need to get him as many tune-up opportunities as possible before the regular season commences.

Thus, Scherzer is slated to make two more exhibition starts - tentatively Monday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, then April 1 against the Red Sox at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis - to build up his pitch count to a point where he's ready for his season debut.

That debut would come in the Nationals' third game (April 6 against the Marlins).

"Right now, we've kind of got Max slated as the No. 3 starter," manager Dusty Baker said. "That's better than No. 1 right now. He's No. 3 because that's how his turn worked out, with giving him some more time."

Scherzer threw 54 pitches over three innings the last time he was on the mound, Thursday in a minor league game. If all goes well today, he'll go four innings or 65 pitches, then build up to 80 and 95 pitches in his final two exhibition outings.

The Nationals didn't know most of the spring whether Scherzer would be ready for any of that and would thus need to open the season on the disabled list, so they lined up the rest of the rotation all along to compensate for it.

Throwing-Stephen-Strasburg-white.pngThus, Strasburg has been lined up for a while to start opening day on normal rest. The right-hander is hardly a substandard fallback option, having started three consecutive openers from 2012-14 during a career that includes two All-Star Game selections, a league strikeout title and Cy Young votes.

Roark, too, is now lined up to start the season's second game (April 5 against the Marlins) after his impressive performance Tuesday night in the World Baseball Classic semifinals.

The right-hander tossed four scoreless innings on 48 pitches in helping lead Team USA to a 2-1 victory over Japan and a berth in tonight's championship game against Puerto Rico.

Baker admitted he wasn't able to stay up to watch Roark's entire outing - the game, played at Dodger Stadium, started at 9 p.m. EDT - but was pleased to get the news his pitcher performed well after a bit of a shaky first inning.

"I tried," Baker said. "I saw him hit the first batter and I was like, 'Oh man, this ain't going too good.' Then the first thing I did this morning when I got up was check MLB on my phone to see who won. I saw 2-1 and I said, 'Oh man, Tanner must have done pretty good.' ...

"I'm glad he came out. I know he feels good about it. He wanted to go. He wanted to contribute. So he helped get them to the final round."

Roark and teammate Daniel Murphy are slated to fly back to Florida on Thursday and return to Nationals camp Friday. The team will try to get Murphy (who has played in only two of Team USA's seven games) as many at-bats as possible in preparation for the regular season. Roark, meanwhile, should get two more exhibition starts to build his arm up (March 26 vs. the Astros, March 31 vs. the Red Sox at Nationals Park).

Gio González and Joe Ross will round out the rotation to open the season, but it's not yet clear in which order they'll pitch.

* Michael A. Taylor remains away from the club due to a family issue, and it has not been determined when the outfielder will return.

"Michael has something very personal; that's the reason why he's not here," Baker said. "You'll find out when Michael wants to release what that reason is. I told him to take all the time he needs, because it's really serious what he's going though."

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