The Nationals are set to select the contract of veteran righty Jeremy Guthrie, manager Dusty Baker told reporters including Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com (via Twitter). As had been expected, he’ll make a start against the Phillies tomorrow, though it’s not yet clear what his role will be thereafter.
Entering camp, Guthrie seemed a longshot to make the talent-laden Nats roster. After all, he struggled badly in 2015 and did not suit up last season. But Guthrie reportedly showed up with a big fastball and turned in a nice spring stat line.
Over 18 2/3 innings, he allowed just five earned runs on a meager ten hits while racking up 15 punchouts to go with five walks. Whether or not he can carry that success into the regular season in his age-38 campaign remains to be seen, but it could be interesting to see how the longtime starter fares in a relief role. To this stage, over a dozen MLB seasons, Guthrie has entered from the pen only 33 times.
The Nats have long been expected to turn over the fifth starter’s role to Joe Ross, who owns a 3.52 ERA over the first 181 2/3 innings of his young career. But he was optioned to open the year, allowing the club to better utilize that roster spot to begin the season. That also meant Ross couldn’t be recalled for tomorrow’s outing, since he’s required to spend ten days on optional assignment.
A corresponding move has yet to be announced, but the obvious approach would be to option one of their reserves — infielder Wilmer Difo or outfielder Michael Taylor, most likely. Things get trickier after that, though. Washington could simply outright Guthrie after the start. It could move him to the pen and bump another reliever when it’s time to call upon Ross — though unless there’s a DL placement needed that’d likely mean placing the out-of-options Enny Romero on waivers. Or, that pen placement could be facilitated by optioning whichever reserve (Difo or Taylor) doesn’t lose his spot tomorrow. Perhaps there’s at least some possibility, too, that the club could hold Ross back in Triple-A and allow Guthrie to keep a rotation spot for some time.
It’s hard to know just how the team will proceed at this part; it could be dependent at least in part upon how Guthrie performs, and the plan could always change as circumstances dictate. The most likely course, it seems, would be for the optionable position players to head back to Triple-A for regular playing time to make room for Ross, leaving Guthrie to function in a swingman role. Baker could utilize him much as he did Yusmeiro Petit in 2016, when Petit threw 62 innings over 36 relief appearances and one start.