Starting Pitching on Display for the Washington Nationals

On Tuesday, Stephen Strasburg made his long-awaited return to the mound. (Photo: Elsa/Getty Images)

Starters across the league are beginning to play much more frequently, and the Nationals’ starting pitchers are no exception. Relievers and other pitchers expected to open the season outside of the rotation started Washington’s first four games, with only Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin making a start prior to this week. But lately, that has shifted.

The Top Five

In four games this week, only core five starters have opened games for the Nationals. Jon Lester (thyroid surgery) has yet to make his debut, but Joe Ross, Stephen Strasburg, Scherzer and Corbin have each appeared in one game apiece this week.

So what have we seen from them? Mostly good things.

  • Joe Ross (Monday): 1.2 innings, one hit, one walk, one earned run, three strikeouts
  • Stephen Strasburg (Tuesday): 1.2 innings, no hits, one walk, no runs, four strikeouts
  • Max Scherzer (Wednesday): three innings, no base runners, five strikeouts
  • Patrick Corbin (Thursday): three innings, two hits, two walks, no runs, three strikeouts

It’s too soon to tell, but perhaps new pitching coach Jim Hickey has something to do with that.

Scherzer was noticeably grunting in his outing, which is a sign that he’s near regular season form. Strasburg was satisfied with his first start back from carpel tunnel surgery. Corbin’s fastball averaged 90 miles per hour – higher than usual – and he also threw a 64-MPH butterfly curveball. And Ross’ outing inspired a lot of confidence from Dave Martinez.

The Depth Pieces

We’ve also seen appearances from some of Washington’s depth options in the rotation.

  • Erick Fedde (Monday): two innings, two hits, one walk, no runs, one strikeout
  • Austin Voth (Wednesday): two innings, two hits, no walks, no runs, no strikeouts
  • Kyle McGowin (Wednesday): one inning, one hit, no walks, no runs, one strikeout
  • Ben Braymer (Wednesday): one inning, one hit, no walks, one earned run, no strikeouts (save)

At this time last year, some of these players were competing for a spot in the starting rotation. They won’t win that out of camp this year, but the Nationals are counting on each of them to continue to improve.

Down on the Farm

Rogelio Armenteros (arm soreness) has not appeared in a game since his debut on March 1. No. 3 prospect Cole Henry also has not pitched since March 4. Tim Cate (arm soreness) has not pitched in a game yet this spring, nor has Seth Romero – although he has pitched in an intrasquad match.

Top prospects Cade Cavalli and Jackson Rutledge both pitched in a “B” game – a less official contest more heavily comprised of minor league players – against the Cardinals on Wednesday.

The Full Scope

This should come as no surprise, but the Nationals have a very talented starting rotation. What’s new, however, is that there appears to be an increasing amount of depth behind the top arms.

With Lester on the mend – and no official word that he’ll be ready by Opening Day – that depth might be needed early this season. But at a minimum, there will be a need for a sixth and seventh starter at some point in the year.

The team will likely carry either Voth or Fedde as a bullpen arm to start the season, and they’ve even floated the idea of carrying both of them – if they opt for 14 pitchers (nine relievers) and only 12 position players (four off the bench).

Lineup Updates

Top position players have also taken the field much more lately.

  • Four games: None
  • Three games: Josh Bell, Starlin Castro, Carter Kieboom, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Victor Robles, Andrew Stevenson
  • Two games: Yan Gomes, Alex Avila, Josh Harrison
  • One game: Juan Soto (non-COVID illness), Ryan Zimmerman

We’ve also seen multiple lineups recently that look similar to what it could be by Opening Day.

Other Notes

Of course, there have been some other recent developments in West Palm Beach.

  • Reliever Justin Miller signed minor league deal with team late last month
    • Pitched for Washington in parts of 2018–19
  • Fellow reliever Jeremy Jeffress released for “personnel reasons” on Sunday
  • Tanner Rainey threw bullpen session on Wednesday
    • Has been dealing with muscle strain near his collarbone
  • Minor league invitee Jefry Rodriguez (shoulder stiffness) still only throwing on flat ground
  • Luis Garcia started at shortstop on Tuesday
    • Still likely to start season in minor leagues
  • Gerardo Parra played right field in Wednesday’s B game
  • released updated top 30 organizational prospects
    • Infielder Yasel Antuna and outfielder Jeremy De La Rosa among biggest movers

Upcoming Schedule

Washington has four games in a row before its next off-day, after which they’ll play four more. Here’s the upcoming slate:

  • Saturday: vs. Mets, 6:05 p.m.
  • Sunday: at Astros, 1:05 p.m.
  • Monday: at Cardinals, 1:05 p.m.
  • Tuesday: vs. Marlins, 6:05 p.m.
  • Wednesday: off
  • Thursday: at Mets, 1:10 p.m.
  • Friday: at Astros, 6:05 p.m.
  • Saturday, Mar 20: vs. Marlins, 6:05 p.m.
  • Sunday, Mar 21: vs. Mets, 1:05 p.m.

Keep up with the latest Nationals news by following @stephen_newman1 and @CapitalNewsman on Twitter.

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