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Plenty of storylines for Nats in Nashville

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Plenty of storylines for Nats in Nashville

The baseball world converges today on Nashville, with executives, managers, coaches, trainers and more from every franchise, a phalanx of agents, minor-league officials, regular folks seeking work in the sport and -- of course -- media members taking over the gargantuan Opryland Resort and Convention Center for the next five days.

The annual Winter Meetings are quite a spectacle, so many people affiliated with the game of baseball hunkered down in one location, and they're quite often the scene of some major news. (Anyone remember the Albert Pujols extravaganza last year in Dallas?)

Slowly but surely over the years, the Nationals have become a more significant force at the meetings, their biggest splash coming two Decembers ago at Disney World when they shocked the industry by signing Jayson Werth to a $126 million contract.

Now that they're coming off a 98-win season their first-ever playoff appearance, the Nationals won't sneak up on anyone at the meetings. Plenty of observers will be watching Mike Rizzo, Davey Johnson and Co. closely over these next few days, waiting to see if there's another big move in the works.

With that in mind, here are some of the most important Nationals storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Music City...

THE SEARCH FOR A FIFTH STARTER
Though we've been saying for more than a month now that the Nationals' No. 1 priority this winter involved Adam LaRoche, there's not a lot of reason to believe that issue will be resolved at the Winter Meetings. LaRoche, by all indications, is willing to take his time before deciding whether to return to D.C. or sign elsewhere, and he's just now learning what other clubs are willing to offer.

So the biggest thing the Nationals could do this week is finalize their starting rotation, adding one more arm to the already-talented quartet of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler.

There are no shortage of veteran starters on the market, with Zack Greinke topping everybody's list. Rizzo loves the right-hander and nearly pulled off a major trade (and $100 million contract extension) for him two years ago before Greinke nixed the deal because he didn't think the Nationals were ready to win. Obviously, they're ready to win now, though there's reason to question whether Rizzo is as willing to fork over that much dough to Greinke this time around, considering all the other money he's already committed to his roster over the next several years.

If they want to aim lower, the Nationals still have plenty of viable choices. Dan Haren, Ryan Dempster, Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, Brandon McCarthy, Joe Saunders and Shaun Marcum are all free agents and potential additions to the rotation.

Or, Rizzo could seek to find a pitcher via...

A SIGNIFICANT TRADE
We already know he's willing to take this route to acquire a player he covets. He did it last winter with Gio Gonzalez. And he just did it last week with Denard Span.

What pitcher might be available this winter? Keep an eye on the Rays, who are forever looking to keep payroll down and are willing to listen to offers for more than one member of their rotation. And there are two really big fish in Tampa who could be shopped around this week: David Price and James Shields.

Price, of course, is the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner. Shields is no slouch, a 200-inning-a-year workhorse who struck out 448 batters over the last two seasons.

Either would carry a steep price. But Rizzo has pieces at his disposal, whether in the form of Michael Morse (who may be out of a job if LaRoche re-signs), Danny Espinosa (who could be replaced at second base by Steve Lombardozzi) or perhaps even top prospect Anthony Rendon.

Would such a mega-deal ever actually go down? Who knows. But given his history, would you put it past Rizzo to do something along those lines in order to acquire another big-name pitcher?

The Nationals don't just need another starter, though. They desperately need...

BULLPEN HELP
With Sean Burnett, Michael Gonzalez and Zach Duke all free agents and Tom Gorzelanny now on the open market after he was non-tendered Friday night, the Nationals desperately need a left-hander or two for their bullpen.

They have the ability to re-sign any of those pitchers, and perhaps they will, though Burnett's price tag is hefty. He's seeking a three-year deal similar to the one the Giants gave Jeremy Affeldt to stay in San Francisco, and the Nats may not be willing to make that kind of commitment to anyone who lives in the up-and-down world of a major-league bullpen.

Gonzalez and Duke would be much more affordable, though neither possesses the recent track record of success and durability that Burnett has shown.

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Tanner Roark and Jayson Werth lead Nationals past Phillies 4-0

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USA Today Sports

Tanner Roark and Jayson Werth lead Nationals past Phillies 4-0

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Tanner Roark threw seven impressive innings, Jayson Werth hit a solo homer and the Washington Nationals beat the Philadelphia Phillies 4-0 on Monday night.

Roark (14-7) allowed four singles and struck out five. Marc Rzepczynski tossed a perfect eighth and Mark Melancon finished off the four-hitter.

Phillies rookie Jake Thompson (1-4) allowed two runs and seven hits in seven innings. It was the longest and best of his five career starts.

Werth lined a solo shot to left in the first against his former team. A member of Philadelphia's 2008 World Series championship team, Werth was greeted by boos, as usual.

Bryce Harper raced home from first on Anthony Rendon's single to left-center to make it 2-0 in the first. Clint Robinson and Trea Turner had RBI singles off Frank Herrmann in the ninth.

Thompson settled in nicely after a rough start. His last pitch was a nasty curve that froze Turner for strike three.

Roark didn't need much support. The righty stifled the Phillies again. He's 3-0 with a 0.64 ERA against them this season.

The NL East-leading Nationals snapped a two-game losing streak.

RELATED: NATS MAKE TWO ROSTER MOVES

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Nats look to get back on track as Roark starts at Phillies

Nats look to get back on track as Roark starts at Phillies

Nats (75-55) at Phillies (60-70) at Citizens Bank Park

Having lost six of their last eight, the Nats now hit the road to face the Phillies for three games. This could be a good opportunity to collect some wins against a lesser team, as the Nats swept each of their last two head-to-head series.

Also working in the Nats' favor is that Tanner Roark is on the mound. Roark is 13-7 with a 2.99 ERA and is very good at going deep into games, having pitched at least seven innings in 15 of his 25 starts.

Ryan Zimmerman gets the day off as manager Dusty Baker looks to get him some rest. Clint Robinson is instead playing first base.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Tanner Roark vs. Phillies - Jake Thompson

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
1B Clint Robinson
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Tanner Roark

PHILLIES

TBA
RHP Jake Thompson

CLICK HERE FOR LIVE STATS AND SCORES

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Nationals option Lucas Giolito to AAA Syracuse, recall Michael A. Taylor

Nationals option Lucas Giolito to AAA Syracuse, recall Michael A. Taylor

The Nationals have optioned pitcher Lucas Giolito to AAA Syracuse and recalled outfielder Michael A. Taylor, the team announced Monday. 

Giolito will return to the minors after starting Sunday in Washington's 5-3 loss to Colorado. He pitched a career-high five innings, allowing four runs on six hits (two HRs) and four walks. 

As Nationals Insider Chase Hughes noted, the rookie pitcher's velocity hasn't lived up to expectations. 

His fastball is supposed to sit comfortably in the high-90s and occasionally touch triple digits ... On Sunday against the Colorado Rockies, Giolito sat consistently around 93 miles per hour. That's not bad at all, but it's a far cry from the prodigious speed he used to have.

Taylor, meanwhile, last played for the Nationals on July 24 against the Padres. He went 0-4 at the plate in the 10-6 loss. 

MORE NATIONALS: Nats to add veteran Mat Latos when rosters expand on Sept. 1