Shortly after writing about – among other topics – likely roster activity that would take place in the next few days, the Nationals made a flurry of transactions. In all likelihood, their roster is completely established at this point, or at least very close to it.
Selected from Minors: Infielder Jordy Mercer and INF/OF Hernan Perez
Optioned to AAA Rochester: LHP Sam Clay, RHP Kyle McGowin, infielders Luis Garcia and Carter Kieboom, and outfielder Yadiel Hernandez
Reassigned to Minors: RHPs Aaron Barrett, Paolo Espino, Javy Guerra and Todd Peterson; catchers Welington Castillo, Brandon Snyder and Blake Swihart; infielder Adrian Sanchez; and outfielders Gerardo Parra and Carlos Tocci
Designated for Assignment: Infielder Jake Noll
Released from Minors: LHP T.J. McFarland and outfielder Yasmany Tomas
This leaves 29 players remaining in big-league camp, and three of them (LHP Seth Romero and RHPs Rogelio Armenteros and Will Harris) are expected to begin the season on the Injured List. In other words, the remaining 26 are presumably making the Opening Day roster – unless any players are added from other organizations.
This was a strange week from the Nationals, but very little of it will affect the Opening Day roster. The Stephen Strasburg injury scare was certainly unsettling, but apparently it doesn’t matter – don’t believe me; listen to the medical expert.
Over the last four games, Washington has pretty clearly been positioning its roster – and especially its starting rotation – for what it’ll be asked to do once the regular season starts. Here’s what I’ve noticed.
Spring Training is quickly approaching its conclusion. Most roles are fairly set in stone at this point, so we’ll take the same approach we did last week towards analyzing the Nationals recent performance and the state of the roster.
Washington played four consecutive games after their midweek off-day. They won three of them, but as we all know, that’s not what’s important during Spring Training.
Let’s start with offensive performance trends, before diving into pitching and roster activity.
Not much has changed since last weekend’s update. The same four pitchers are starting games, and the lineup has largely remained consistent. However, there have been some moderately surprising performances – both good and bad – for the Nationals lately.
With that in mind, I’ve taken this midweek off-day as an opportunity to discuss productivity trends and what they might mean leading up to Opening Day. Additionally, it looks like we’ve finally reached a point at which it’s appropriate to discuss the bullpen, now that everyone has thrown a few times and roles are becoming a bit more clear.
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.
We all knew that adding Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber while losing Adam Eaton and Asdrubal Cabrera (among others) would result in a reconstructed Nationals batting order. They lost some decent all-around hitters and added sluggers, bolstering their thump but sacrificing some on-base potential and overall consistency.
It’s still early in Spring Training, but some lineup patterns have become clear.
There’s a lot to look forward to this spring for Nationals fans. The overwhelming majority of the team’s core from 2020 is returning, as well as a few players who opted out of play last year. Washington also added a few pieces that will play prominent roles in the upcoming season.
With the dawn of each new iteration comes a bevy of decisions regarding what roles each player will fill. Some years, those answers are more clear than others. This season, on the surface, there’s not much that isn’t apparent. But much like most years, there are numerous questions further down the roster that must be addressed, as well as the conundrum of how to restructure the batting order.
We’ve already introduced these topics earlier this week, but each merits some additional discussion, including an established pecking order in each race.
Spring Training is underway across Major League Baseball, and that means the newest iteration of the Washington Nationals is beginning to take form. Most of their key pieces from last year’s team will be back in 2021, but that wasn’t a season that returned many fond memories.
If it seems like every year or two, the Nationals are looking for a new pitching coach, that’s because they are. They blow through managers too, but the search for a pitching coach seems equally – if not more – tiresome.
The Rise and Fall of the Nats’ Staff
Steve McCatty handled Washington’s pitchers for seven years (2009-15). The staff’s ERA dropped from 5.00 when he took over to 3.33 (second-best in baseball) in 2012, improving every year during that span. The unit checked in at a remarkable 3.03 in 2014, and never registered an ERA above 3.62 or worse than eighth in the majors in McCatty’s final five seasons.
The team as a whole spiraled under Matt Williams during 2015, and the contracts of most of the staff – including McCatty – weren’t renewed during that offseason.
The Nats let him get away, not knowing the misfortune and disfunction that could strike a pitching staff that based on talent alone was dominant.
It was a tale of two series for the Nationals this week. They were swept in four games by the Phillies, but took two out of four from the Braves to end the week. They had a losing streak extend all the way to seven games, but they finished the week winning two of their last three.
Rather than going game-by-game, let’s discuss trends this week.