PHILADELPHIA — Mike Rizzo just held court for a few minutes on the field during batting practice and gave some updates on several players of note, so let's run through them all...
JORDAN ZIMMERMANN: The rehabbing right-hander starts tonight for Class AAA Syracuse, his 10th minor-league start of the summer and quite possibly his last. Rizzo didn't fully commit to promoting Zimmermann after this outing, but he seemed to strongly suggest that's the plan. "We've been taking him start-by-start," the GM said. "But I think if he throws well, we would probably consider bringing him back. Put it this way: If there's no need for another minor-league start, developmental-wise or to get him ready to pitch up here, then we would bring him up here." UPDATE AT 8:42 P.M.: Zimmermann tossed five more scoreless innings tonight at Syracuse, allowing one hit, striking out five and walking one. In 10 minor-league starts, he has a 1.59 ERA. Gotta believe he'll be pitching in D.C. next week.
YUNESKY MAYA: The recently signed Cuban right-hander is scheduled to start Sunday for Class A Potomac after two good outings in the Gulf Coast League (one earned run, three hits in seven total innings). What happens after that? "He'll have at least one more minor-league start, an upper-level, minor-league start," Rizzo said. "Then we'll see where we're at after September 1. He'll probably come to the big leagues and get a start up here."
Obviously, once Zimmermann and Maya reach the majors, the Nats will face some rotation decisions. Rizzo said they won't go to a six-man rotation. A more-likely scenario would have two current starters moving to the bullpen, though those guys could be "piggy-backed" with Zimmermann or Maya and pitch long relief after the starter is pulled after four or five innings. "There's a lot of things we may dom" Rizzo said. "Jim [Riggleman] and [Steve] McCatty and I are going to sit down and discuss that when we get closer to that situation. But we see [Zimmermann and Maya] as starting pitchers, so they're going to get starts in the big leagues. We'll see what happens with the seven guys for the five spots."
BRYCE HARPER: The club hasn't firmly settled yet on when Harper will be introduced at Nationals Park, though it will happen sometime during next week's homestand. After that, the top draft pick will report to Viera to work out with the GCL squad. However, Harper won't be playing in any GCL games (or any other regular-season games at another minor-league level). He'll start playing in games once the Florida instructional league begins in late-September. "We'll prepare him for instructional league in Florida," Rizzo said. "He'll get his work in with the GCL team, not playing in games. Contractually, he's not going to play in the games in the GCL."
JOSH WILLINGHAM: The injured left fielder has returned to his home in Alabama but will return to D.C. next week when the Nats are back in town. He'll then meet with doctors and determine a course of action moving forward. Rizzo said it's "not a foregone conclusion" Willingham will have surgery to repair the medial meniscus tear in his left knee. It's possible he could avoid surgery and get better through rehab. Even in that scenario, though, there almost certainly wouldn't be enough time for Willingham to return to play this season.