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Nationals’ 5th starter: Reynaldo Lopez faces Braves tonight in D.C.

Washington Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker talked on Friday about Reynaldo Lopez facing the Atlanta Braves and the Nats’ search for a reliable fifth starter with Joe Ross out...

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

In an MLB Network Radio interview on Thursday, Washington Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker talked about the fifth spot in the Nats’ rotation, which has been an issue ever since right-hander Joe Ross was placed DL with inflammation in his right shoulder in early July.

Baker said he hoped Ross, 23, would be able to help the Nationals over the next couple months, though he suffered a setback recently that stopped his rehab assignment and future plans are at this point unclear.

“I’m hoping he’s a big part down the stretch, because this guy, I mean, we miss him,” Baker told hosts Casey Stern and Cliff Floyd.

“He’s not only an outstanding pitcher that’s getting better and better, but he’s also an outstanding athlete.

“I can use him to pinch hit, pinch run at any point in time during the game, and he enjoys playing the game of baseball.”

Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez have each taken their turns in the rotation, and the Nationals have filled in for Ross over the last month-plus.

“That other spot that he occupies has been kind of in turmoil between [Lucas] Giolito and [Reynaldo] Lopez or whoever else we’ve tried to put in there,” Baker said, “so we’re hoping that whoever — his start is supposed to be Saturday, Joe, and we were hoping he would be ready. He’s not ready.”

On Friday afternoon, Baker confirmed reports which said the Nationals would turn to Lopez again after two starts in the majors in which the 22-year-old right-hander was (0-1) with nine earned runs allowed in 8 ⅔ IP, over which he walked six (6.23 BB/9) and struck out 13 (13.50 K/9).

After Lopez faced the San Francisco Giants in AT&T Park on July 30th, giving up four hits, five walks and three earned runs in four innings, he returned to AAA Syracuse, making one start in which he gave up five hits, two of them home runs, and five runs total in six innings pitched, over which he threw 90 pitches.

Baker said he was hoping that one of the candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation would establish themselves and claim the role.

“I’d rather settle on one guy,” he explained, “but it depends on the person. If one guy steps up that would make our decision a lot easier.

“We’ll see, I mean, everybody likes a set program if you have one versus having to mix and match, but you do what you have to do.”

Asked if he thought Lopez might benefit from facing a team, with some young hitters that hadn’t seen him before, Baker said thought it could potentially help.

“I don’t know, that’s a good question,” he said. “Because you’re facing young with young, you know what I mean, and sometimes young vs young is tougher than young vs experienced, because how do you set a youngster up?

“You can set a veteran up, if you make the right pitches, if you know him, and there’s a good chance you know more about him than he knows about you, because you’ve watched him on TV, got a lot video, a lot of everything to study up on, but when it’s young on young, you really don’t know a lot of times, like a September call-up.”

“It might help that they might be a little more free-swinging I think than a veteran club,” Baker added.

Lopez makes his third major league start at 7:05 PM EDT in D.C.