There is a fine balance between the starting pitchers and the bullpen arms. The Washington Nationals bullpen in 2021 was the worst in baseball history in blown saves. Their collective 5.08 ERA tells just part of the story, and that might have caused manager Dave Martinez to go longer with his starting pitchers.
The net effect on the starters is hard to quantify, but what we can tell you is that if you removed Max Scherzer from the 2021 equation, the rest of the Nats’ starters combined for an atrocious 4.94 ERA. It is easy to see that with Erick Fedde‘s 5.26 ERA, Josiah Gray at 5.31, and Patrick Corbin at 5.82 that there was a major problem. Stephen Strasburg has already ruled himself out to start the season with the team, and Corbin right now figures to be the Opening Day starter against Jacob deGrom.
Believe it or not, Paolo Espino, who was the 33 year old rookie in 2020, was one of the bright spots last year with his 4.50 ERA. Espino is now 35 years old, and counting on him is risky to say the least. But who do you count on? Joe Ross was one of the stand-out starters on the team in 2021, but he is injured currently and on the 60-day IL. Josh Rogers pitched all of 35 2/3 innings and was the team leader in the second half (min. 35 IP) of the season with a 3.28 ERA.
The rest of the contenders for starting spots are Joan Adon, Aaron Sanchez, and Anibal Sanchez. With Ross and Strasburg out for the Opening Day roster, it looks like Corbin, Gray, Fedde, and a pick-two from the others named. The risk with having starters with no options on the Opening Day roster is that the team will have to make room when Strasburg and Ross are ready.
Hopefully pitching coach Jim Hickey and the analytics group will figure out the workloads, but I have long said that with poor starters, you need more relievers who can give you multiple innings to pick up the slack. Some call them long-men, but most teams are going with hybrid relievers who can go one-to-three innings if needed. The Nationals over the last five years have pitched the fewest bullpen innings. Last year the bullpen only logged 566 2/3 innings which was the second least usage in the NL.
It will be up to the team to figure this all out. If they repeat the dreadful numbers of 2021 and 2020, the team is in trouble. Some would say they were built to be bad. While that looks true today, the hope is that general manager Mike Rizzo can at least build up the bullpen in these final weeks before the season starts.
The first game of Spring Training is tonight from The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches at 6:05 PM.