Sep 23, 2013, 7:28 PM EST
ST. LOUIS — Davey Johnson has set his rotation for the rest of the regular season, opting to give the final start of the year to Gio Gonzalez instead of rookie Tanner Roark.
Roark’s turn would come up for Sunday’s finale in Arizona, but Johnson said he’ll use Thursday’s off-day to bring Gonzalez back on regular rest, giving the lefty two more appearances before season’s end.
Roark, who is starting tonight’s series opener against the Cardinals, would be available out of the bullpen this weekend against the Diamondbacks.
“Gio’s pitching tomorrow and he’d have normal rest for Sunday,” Johnson said. “I figure, put our best foot forward. And Roark would be available out of the ‘pen, whereas Gio wouldn’t.”
The Nationals will officially be eliminated from the NL Wild Card race with any combination of two losses or two wins by the Pirates and Reds, but Johnson suggested that won’t alter his pitching plan for the season’s final week.
“I still figure on putting my best foot forward, either way,” he said.
Thus, Roark is making the final start of a surprising rookie season tonight, trying to improve to 8-0 while also lowering his 1.08 ERA. The 26-year-old right-hander has impressed club officials, who didn’t necessarily consider him a significant part of their future plans but now believe he deserves consideration for the No. 5 starter’s job next spring.
Roark also could open next season as a long reliever in the Nationals’ bullpen and de facto No. 6 starter in case of emergency.
“He has pitched so good either way,” Johnson said. “He was pitching good down at Triple-A, and he just carried it up here. He’s got a pretty good arsenal: curveball, slider, changeup, fastball. We’ll see how it finishes out. But that’ll be somebody else’s [decision].”
The Nationals’ rotation the rest of this season will include Gonzalez starting Tuesday night against the Cardinals, with Jordan Zimmermann seeking his 20th win on Wednesday afternoon. Stephen Strasburg will make his final start Friday night in Arizona, with Dan Haren on Saturday and Gonzalez pitching Sunday’s finale.
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