Bronson Arroyo looking for shot in Nationals' rotation

VIERA, Fla. -- This offseason, when Dusty Baker was hired as the new manager of the Washington Nationals after two years out of baseball, Bronson Arroyo sent him a text.

"Back at it again?" the veteran pitcher asked his old skipper.

"Yeah, one last album," said Baker, a noted music buff.

If Arroyo, who happens to be a guitarist of some acclaim, has anything to say about it, he'll be part of the band.

Last month, Arroyo signed a minor league deal with the Nationals in hopes of competing for a spot in their rotation. The veteran righty, who turns 39 next week, has seemingly been around forever. He has pitched long enough that he's among the top 10 active hurlers in wins, starts and innings. Long enough to win a World Series, which he did with the Red Sox in 2004 (his debut album, Covering the Bases, was released the following year). Long enough to take the mound for four different big league clubs, including Cincinnati, where Baker was his manager for five seasons from 2008 through 2012. But for all his experience, Arroyo, who underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2014, hasn't pitched in the big leagues in nearly two years. As a result, he finds himself in unfamiliar territory.

"Either perform or you go home," said Arroyo, standing in front of his locker at the Nationals' complex on the first official day of spring training. "This is a position I haven't been in in a long time, competing for a job. I'm back to being a 22-year-old kid competing against guys -- except now I'm the old guy."

He compared himself to John Burkett, the former pitcher who was an aging vet with the Red Sox when Arroyo first came to Boston in 2003.

"I'm the guy with the greasy, grimy old glove that I've been using for 10 years," Arroyo said. "We all have to deal with the fact that the body goes downhill over time and there's testosterone-filled young kids coming every day to try and take your job."

One of those young kids on the Nationals' roster is Joe Ross, the 22-year-old righty who impressed last season as a rookie before tiring down the stretch. Currently, Ross and Tanner Roark, who was bumped to the bullpen last season following the Max Scherzer signing, are penciled in at the back end of a rotation that lost Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister to free agency. Although Ross wasn't available in the Nats' clubhouse on Thursday, Roark was, and he sounded confident that, despite the looming presence of Arroyo, he will wind up back in the rotation.

"I expect to start," said Roark, who won 15 games in 2014 -- his first full season in the rotation -- but struggled last year in a hybrid role that had him shuttling back and forth between relief and spot starting duty. "I'm coming in here to prepare as a starter, and I want to be a starter. So that's what I'll prepare for, and what I’m preparing to be."

Of course, the same can be said for Arroyo. And Ross. Three pitchers for two spots. Kind of like musical chairs.