SHADES OF RED: Pitching Key to National’s Upcoming Season

| January 19, 2014 | 0 Comments | Sports

by Will Facciol: Shades of Red D.C. Sports

Hello to all of you Nationals seam-heads out there, Shades of Red and Bristow Beat readers!

Yes, I realize it’s mid-January, the Wiz and Caps are in the hearts of their respective seasons, and you may think it’s too early for baseball news…Well, WE CAN AGREE TO DISAGREE! There are a ton of stories to follow, that will prepare us for once spring training ramps up on Feb. 28 (just a little over a month away) against the Mets. Today, I’m going to focus on the starting pitching staff, the bullpen and the bench.

With the Doug Fister aquisition from the Detroit Tigers, the Nationals have one of the best, if not THE best, 4-man rotation in baseball with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister. Yet, as we know, you need a 5-man rotation during the season. The candidates for the 5th spot are  LHP Ross Detwiler (2-7, 4.04 ERA, 71 IP in 2013), RHP Tanner Roark (7-1, 1.51 ERA, 53 IP), RHP Taylor Jordan (9-1, 1.00 ERA, 90 IP in minors) and Nathan Karns (10-6, 3.26 ERA, 1.32 IP in minors).

The natural choice here would be Detwiler since he’s a guy whose proven to win you ball games and has been in the majors for a few years, but then when you look at Roark’s numbers from last season, you wonder why there’s even a debate that he isn’t the guy! So we have two very capable and professional pitchers in the running there, and in my opinion, they will be dueling-it-out in during spring training for that 5th spot.

Now Jordan was great in the minors last season, while showing flashes of brilliance during his brief call-up to the big leagues as well. Chances are strong he’ll start the season in AAA though and the same goes for Karns. Both Karns and Jordan could be major league ready starting pitchers in their own right, but this staff is crowded.

Early last season, the Nationals made a huge blunder by only having one lefty in the bullpen and another blunder by his name being Zach Duke (Ha!). This offseason, General Manager Mike Rizzo made it a point to go out and acquire a left handed reliever for lefty-on-lefty matchups. He found his guy in Jerry Blevins  5-0, 3.15 ERA, 60 IP in Oakland). Typically a healthy and well-balanced bullpen has 7 pitchers. They usually include a left handed long reliever (Xavier Cedeno or Ross Detwiler), a right handed long reliever (Ross Ohlendorf or Jordan/Karns/Roark), two right handed middle relievers (Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen), a left handed middle reliever (Jerry Blevins), a setup man and a closer (your two best short men: Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano). The Nationals seem to have this covered on paper. There will be a little tweaking here and there, as some pitchers may perform better or worse than expected…but the bullpen is about matchups and they have more than enough arms to provide many favorable ones. Look for the battle between Detwiler and Roark in spring training to determine who will be one of the long men.

The bench for the Nats has basically two definite members: OF Nate McLouth and OF Scott Hairston. Infielders Jamie Carroll and Jeff Fontenot, SS/2B Danny Espinosa, 1b/LF Tyler Moore, C Chris Snyder, C Sandy Leon and C Jhonatan Solano all will battle for the three remaining bench spots with one of them reserved for a backup catcher.

Some think Rizzo is still looking to acquire a veteran backup catcher via free agency or trade, but he’s been quoted as saying that he’s “comfortable” with the in-house choices. I personally think Espinosa will be dealt by the start of the season because of his youth and potential as a power-hitting middle infielder that has great defensive capabilities. Also, you look at these bench candidates and you’re not seeing any power from the left-side. This may be another thing Rizzo addresses before the season. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Zach Hart, Brian Smith and William Facciolo are Shades of Red D.C., a group of local fans who have fun analyzing their favorite pro sports teams in the DC area. Catch them on Facebook and on their blog.


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