The Washington Times - December 6, 2012, 12:39PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Washington Nationals are hoping that by Thursday evening they will have their newest starting pitcher officially in the fold. Dan Haren, who agreed to a one-year, $13 million deal with the team on Tuesday, is expected to have his physical wrapped up soon — and the Nationals’ hope, of course, is that he passes.

“You hope so,” said assistant general manager Bryan Minniti said of Haren’s physical. “You expect it.”

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So if and when that does go final, the Nationals will have their starting five essentially locked up. And while they’ll be thrilled about that, with what should be one of the best rotations in the league yet again, it actually makes their search for starting pitching depth more difficult.

The Nationals plan to stretch Christian Garcia out in spring training, as well as Zach Duke, to help serve as their primary insurance. They also consider Ryan Perry and Yunesky Maya in the category of starting depth.

But between the trades for Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span, the Nationals have rid themselves of many of their top minor league starters who were close to the major leagues. In seeking to replenish that, they’re going to be looking for players who’ll understand they may have to play at Triple-A.

“I think the challenging thing with the major league rotation that we have is recruiting guys who know that they’re going to probably end up in Triple-A, barring an injury,” said assistant general manager Bryan Minniti. “So I don’t know that we’ll sign those guys anytime soon. We’ve had negotiations with those guys and conversations in the last six weeks, since the World Series ended, and we’ll continue to try and sign guys to be depth for us.”

As much as the Nationals were decimated by injuries over the course of the 2012 season, one place they were remarkably healthy was in their starting rotation.

None of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson or Ross Detwiler missed a start unless the team decided they would miss it (meaning not because they were injured). They hope that happens every year, but they can’t count on it. And that makes finding solid depth incredibly important to their roster building for 2013.

“They’re critical guys,” Minniti said. “You guys have seen over the years when you end up using far too many of those guys in your major league rotation. But there’s also guys like Zach Duke, who end up at Triple-A and probably don’t belong there all year, but end up coming up to the big leagues late in the season.

“We’ll continue to try and sign those guys but it’ll be a little more difficult with the rotation we have.”