- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2013

VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals’ plans for preparing their pitchers this spring will have one added wrinkle when it comes to left-hander Gio Gonzalez.

Gonzalez will leave camp in early March to join Team USA for the World Baseball Classic, and the Nationals are still working to figure out how to line up his schedule to best prepare him for the tournament as well as the season.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson said he’s still waiting to hear from Team USA manager Joe Torre or pitching coach Greg Maddux for an exact schedule on how they plan to use Gonzalez in the tournament. The early word is that they will pitch him March 10, giving the Nationals hope that they will be able to get him three appearances before he departs for Arizona.

“If it’s going be on the 10th, he’ll get a two-inning start on the first day of the spring and, with regular rest, he’ll probably go three the next time out,” Johnson said Wednesday.

The Nationals hope that Gonzalez will be able to stay with them until March 5, a few days past the March 3 date players are expected to report by, in order to get that third appearance. Gonzalez will be held to a strict pitch count during the tournament, including throwing no more than 65 pitches in the first round.

As for if Gonzalez will be all right being away from the team for so long, Johnson did not appear concerned.

“I’m not worried about it,” he said. “He’s in great shape. He looks good.”

Johnson also offered his own support for Gonzalez as he remains under investigation by Major League Baseball for being linked to the Biogenesis clinic in Miami thought to be distributing performance-enhancing drugs.

“Knowing Gio, I figured there wasn’t much to it,” Johnson said of the initial report involving Gonzalez. “I’ve gotten to know him real well and I know he’s very conscious of taking care of himself. I know all pitchers are looking for any kind of vitamins or whatever that can help you be healthier, but he takes care of himself very well, and I’m sure that he wouldn’t do anything that he knew was breaking the rules.”

The Nationals, as an organization, have largely refrained from commenting on the situation. Gonzalez has been firm in his denial of any involvement with performance-enhancing drugs or the Biogenesis clinic and expects MLB’s investigation to clear him.

General manager Mike Rizzo on Wednesday said he “expects to [see] his name in the lineup every fifth day.”

Rizzo also said the report and MLB’s subsequent investigation, which could result in a 50-game suspension for Gonzalez if he is found to have taken performance-enhancing drugs, did not affect the team’s search for more starting pitching depth.

“It did not intensify anything for us,” Rizzo said. “We’re always looking. We always like depth. But it did not intensify with that.”

Desmond extension possible

Rizzo and shortstop Ian Desmond said that they’d be willing to explore a multiyear contract extension for the shortstop, but neither appeared to feel there was a significant rush to get a deal done.

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