The last time the Washington Nationals faced R.A. Dickey was in the 15th game of the season. The line-up was already compensating for injuries, and Grant Green was the starting 2nd baseman and Wilmer Difo was the starting shortstop in the infield. Adam Eaton was the starting leftfielder and Michael Taylor started in centerfield. Ryan Zimmerman had the game winning two-run home run that night, and Shawn Kelley earned the save.
Probably the strangest occurrence that night on April 20th is that Freddie Freeman went 0-4 with a strikeout. In fact, Freeman was batting .440 before going hitless in that game, and now the “face of the Atlanta franchise” is on the DL with a fractured wrist. The combination of Stephen Strasburg, Oliver Perez, Koda Glover, and Shawn Kelley kept Ender Inciarte, Matt Kemp and Freeman all hitless on that night.
On this night, we will wait and see how Jayson Werth‘s groin is and who is ready to go in the bullpen. There is always the question on how efficient Gio Gonzalez can be from game to game, and how deep he can go in the game.
The Nats Pitchers
The Nationals for all the chatter about the over-use of the bullpen is fake news. In fact, the Nationals bullpen has the least usage of any team in the entire Major Leagues with only 118 1/3 innings logged. Compare that to the Cubs who are 5th in most usage at just under 150 innings with the same amount of games as the Nats. You would also be correct if you deduce from that fact the Nationals do lead the entire Major Leagues in innings per starter at 6.0775, and that does factor in the skewed numbers caused by the 2/3 of an inning logged in by Jeremy Guthrie!
The Starting Pitchers
Who leads all pitchers in pitches thrown? That unfortunately would be Tanner Roark with 957 and an average of 18.6 per inning. Not a model of efficiency and Roark makes Gio Gonzalez look pitch-efficient as the 20th least efficient at 16.4 per inning!
Collectively, the Nats starting four of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, and Gio Gonzalez have thrown more innings combined than any other group of four starters at 209 1/3 innings. Max Scherzer is second in the league in innings per start trailing only Clayton Kershaw, but the Dodgers’ ace Kershaw has been very pitch efficient averaging only 96.3 pitches per start compared to Scherzer who has been exactly 10 pitches higher per start at 106.3 in fewer innings! The oft-injured Strasburg (7 career DL stints) isn’t far behind in innings pitched at 52 2/3 in only 8 starts.
What may seem like a badge of honor pushing the limits of a starting pitcher’s iron man competition, you must be reminded that a baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint, and we are just 25% of the way through the regular season with aspirations of late October baseball in Washington, D.C.
It bares repeating that there was not one Chicago Cubs starter last year that touched 200 innings in the regular season en route to winning the World Series except Jon Lester who had 202 2/3 innings. You can certainly go the Bruce Bochy route of burning out starters with Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum among them and hope you find a true iron man in the likes of Madison Bumgarner, but generally you grasp the notion that pitchers like Roark and Gio and Strasburg have their limits, and so does Max Scherzer who has looked managers in the eye in the past and not given up the baseball in order to stay in the game longer. Strasburg was on the disabled list twice last season and did not pitch in the post-season, and yet he has thrown 100 or more pitches in 6 of his 7 starts after Opening Day and also threw 119 pitches on May 5th.
Cause and effect are alive and well here with no conspiracy theories because the facts are the facts here in usage and over-usage. Dusty Baker clearly stated in his post-game presser yesterday that Tanner Roark is not injured. Dead-arm might not be an injury, but there is something wrong with the right arm of Tanner Roark. He gave up four walks yesterday, and struggled two starts in a row to dot his spots which is what has made Roark so effective as a MLB pitcher.
What can be said that hasn’t already been said about this bullpen? Now for the fairly obvious statistics about the bullpen. They are tied for the second worst in the Majors in terms of ERA only behind the Seattle Mariners. In fact the Nationals are at 5.32 for a bullpen ERA and that has improved from where they were earlier in the season. It is awful as a group. Mike Rizzo, Dusty Baker, and Mike Maddux all have to share in some of the blame in usage and roles and the performance.
In the surprisingly mediocre news category, the Nationals are the 16th best in the Majors in the blown save percentages. The real issue seems to be the middle of the bullpen, and how they transition from the starter to the back of the bullpen. There also needs to be two innings eaters in that bullpen, and Matt Albers could be one of them.
Joe Blanton is on the DL with his 9.49 ERA and that has skewed the numbers, but Blake Treinen‘s ERA isn’t much better at 7.71. Just when Treinen turned in two good outings on Tuesday and Wednesday, Baker sent him in for the 3rd day in a row yesterday and Treinen had nothing. Usage?
The Bottom Line
This pitching staff has to be fixed without panic, and there has to be sanity restored to the over-usage of these starters. The proper balance has to be there or else based on current usage, the Nats top four starters at the quarter pole will all be well over 200 innings a-piece by the end of the season as the math is simple (multiplying current innings by 4) since we are 25% complete with the season after today’s game!
Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves
Stadium: SunTrust Park 755 Battery Avenue Atlanta, GA 30339
1st Pitch: 7:35 pm EDT
TV: MASN2, FOX Sports South, MLB.TV
Nats Radio: 106.7 FM The Fan; SiriusXM® (Internet 869)
Line-ups (subject to change without notice):