ATLANTA — The Washington Nationals will make two additions to their rotation the next time through as they head toward expanded rosters. Left-hander Tom Milone will assume Jordan Zimmermann's spot and make his major league debut at home Saturday against the New York Mets.
He'll get some company if all goes well for Stephen Strasburg in his final minor league rehab start Thursday with Double-A Harrisburg. The right-hander will then slot into the rotation and start Sept. 6 against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park. It will mark his first major league appearance since having elbow ligament-replacement surgery.
They won't be the only two new faces during the season's final month. Right-hander Brad Peacock also is expected to get his first call to the big leagues but may be used more as reliever than a starter. Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Tuesday that he did not expect the team to employ anything other than a five-man rotation, even with the pitching surplus.
"I plan on letting both [Milone and Strasburg] stay in the rotation but, again, it depends on how they're throwing and all that," Johnson said. "This is the time of year you look at young players. That's what you do when you're not in a pennant race and, unfortunately, we're not in one so we're going to look at some young players that we think have a bright future. Milone's going to be the first one to get a shot."
Rosters can expand from 25 players to 40 on Sept. 1 but other than Milone, Johnson said he does not envision the Nationals calling up anyone else before the Triple-A season ends Sept. 5. Strasburg would start the next day — one year and three days after surgery on his right elbow.
Starting Sept. 6 would allow Strasburg to make his first three appearances at home, including Sept. 11 against Houston and Sept. 16 against Florida.
He would pitch twice more, in Philadelphia on Sept. 22, and in Florida on Sept. 27, if he remains on a five-day schedule. He is expected to be allowed to go to 75 pitches and/or six innings Thursday in Harrisburg. But Johnson said he would scale that back to about four innings, 60 pitches for Strasburg's first major league appearance.
"I always err on the cautious side, especially in his case," Johnson said.
Milone, who earned the Nationals' Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors in 2010 for Double-A Harrisburg, is 12-6 with a 3.22 ERA and an astounding 155 strikeouts to 16 walks for Syracuse. He's a command pitcher who throws a fastball, curveball, cutter and changeup but sits just 87-90 mph with his fastball. His curveball and changeup are, according to catcher Jesus Flores "out pitches," that he can throw in any count at any time.
"He has really good control and good command on every pitch," said Flores, who caught Milone for much of the first half. "He attacks the hitter right away, and then he can play with them. If he goes deep in the count, he will use his out pitches. He can throw them for a strike and [the hitter] just freezes. ... The way I've seen him pitching, for me, he's ready. He's ready to be up here and I think he can do a really good job."
"His numbers are outstanding," Johnson said. "He has had a phenomenal year. His numbers are actually better than [Ross Detwiler's] when you look at them side by side. I'm excited to see him."
When the Triple-A season ends, the Nationals are expected to add Steve Lombardozzi to the major league roster. Pitchers Craig Stammen, Yunesky Maya and Doug Slaten and outfielder Roger Bernadina are possible call-ups as well.
NOTES: The Nationals announced that five of their prospects will be on the roster for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League, including Bryce Harper, who is on the minor league disabled list with a hamstring strain. Harper will be joined by catcher Derek Norris, left-hander Sammy Solis and right-handers Pat Lehman and Rafael Martin.
Third baseman Anthony Rendon and left-hander Matt Purke, the first and fourth selections in the 2011 draft, also are expected to play in the Fall League for Washington but most likely will be taxi-squad players. Those rosters have not yet been officially released.
Catcher Ivan Rodriguez made his second rehab start Tuesday night, catching and hitting third for Double-A Harrisburg. Rodriguez could potentially catch Strasburg's final rehab start Thursday.
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