- 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.

Desmond, who went through his first arbitration process this offseason, is signed through the 2015 season and will make $3.8 million in 2013.

“We haven’t started any of that up, but I’m open-minded with that, yes,” Rizzo said. “With the few guys that we’re thinking about extending, I don’t think that there’s any deadline.”

For Desmond’s part, he said he hadn’t “given it too much consideration.”

“When we get there, we’ll get there,” he said. “And I’ll make a decision from that point.”

While the sides have broached the topic of a contract extension previously, Desmond, who is coming off a career-best season and is now considered one of the best shortstops in the game, said they have never gotten to a point where they’ve exchanged monetary figures or years.

“They asked if we’d be interested and we said possibly,” he said. “That’s pretty much the extent of it. Obviously I feel blessed to be in the situation I’m in where I’m on a one-year contract, finally made it to arbitration, and when we get there, we get there.

“I’m absolutely in no rush. I’ve got three more years in this organization at the minimum. I have no intention of going anywhere. I don’t think they have any intention of moving me so I don’t see what the urgency is. But if it’s something they feel is going to work out for them and they feel like it’ll work out for me, I’ve got no problem with it.”

Around the horn

Denard Span and Dan Haren, two of the Nationals’ marquee additions this offseason, reported to camp Wednesday and began acquainting themselves with their surroundings and their teammates. … Johnson said it is not fully decided which corners Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth will play in the outfield, but it’s likely Harper will be in left with Werth in right. … Right-hander Henry Rodriguez’s elbow, which had a bone spur removed in August, is still a little tender, Johnson said.

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