For as long as Mike Rizzo has been in charge of the roster for the Washington Nationals, the main emphasis has been on starting pitching — and specifically, having dominant starters set the tone for the team. In 2019, the Nationals won the World Series with one of the greatest rotations in team history. In order for the Nationals, or any team for that matter, to expect to win, massive contributions must come from the starting rotation and the bullpen behind them.
As for the 2022 Nationals, there are not a lot of answers that have been so trivial in years past. Stephen Strasburg, the longtime face of the franchise, is expected to be back from the purgatory of injuries that have engulfed him since winning World Series MVP in 2019. After posting the second season where he threw 200 innings back in 2019, Strasburg has not even thrown more than 30 innings in the past two seasons combined. Seemingly, there is always a nagging injury for Strasburg. His massive contract and creeping concerns about his age (he is 33 as of Opening Day), make him anything but a sure thing in the Nationals’ rotation.
The next high-priced question mark for the Nats is Patrick Corbin. Like Strasburg, he was a massive piece in the 2019 World Series team while he was paid a hefty salary. Unlike Strasburg, he has been able to stay on the field. The unfortunate part of that is how ineffective he has been in the past two seasons. He pitched over 170 innings in 2021, but got shelled. His ERA hovered around six all year and all of his statistics indicate that there is a massive issue in his performance. His struggles, for what it is worth, have coincided with the struggles the team as a whole has suffered. For the Nationals to have a decent rotation, a bounce-back season from Corbin will need to be a must.
Strong words from Patrick Corbin today after a good start to his Spring Training.
"I know that the last couple years were terrible. I’ve moved past it, and I feel good about where I’m at."
— Talk Nats ⚾ (@TalkNats) March 23, 2022
After the two expensive former aces, there are no sure things for the Nationals. With the exception of Josiah Gray (more on him in a second), there are very few exciting options for the team. The signing of Anibal Sanchez wreaks of desperation for someone to eat innings. At this stage of his career and the direction of the franchise, the team would likely ask for Sanchez to throw about five innings per start, and hopefully more when he shows he has more to give. After him, Erick Fedde will look to bounce back from a miserable 2022 season. Fedde struggled with command all year. but he flashed enough potential to keep the team interested in having him pitch every fifth day. If his sinker is living in the lower quadrants of the zone, he can collect outs in bunches. The problem is that when he is off his game, it becomes batting practice for the opposition.
That being said, the Nationals do have some options to fill rotation spots depending on Spring Training performances and injuries. Josh Rogers was effective in limited action in 2021, but sustainability will be pivotal. Aaron Sanchez, former Blue Jays ace, is a non roster invite to Spring Training has the opportunity to prove he can return to his 2016 form where he was an All Star. Another option that might actually inspire confidence in fans is Joan Adon. He started the final game of the regular season and struck out 13 against the Red Sox. Adon has electric stuff and might be very close to cracking the Nationals roster. He needs to work on some command issues, but there is a strong likelihood that he makes his way back to the big leagues in 2022.
As for the young right handers whom the Nationals covet more than anyone else. Josiah Gray and Cade Cavalli will be huge pieces to the Nationals’ return to dominance. Gray was on the MLB roster since he arrived in DC at the Trade Deadline in 2021. He showed flashes of greatness, including his strikeout potential and electric stuff. His repertoire includes two breaking balls that are capable of collecting strikeouts in bunches. Gray ran into trouble when it came to keeping the ball in the yard, surrendering many home runs. He will have every opportunity to succeed and learn in the MLB this season. As for Cavalli, the top prospect for the Nats, will likely start the season at AAA. He throws an effortless fastball that reaches triple digits. His wipeout slider and emerging changeup make him one of the most anticipated pitching prospects since Strasburg. There is an expectation for him to make his way to the majors at some point this season. Likely, that will not come until the summer.
In order for the Nationals to return to relevance, they will need their rotation to help carry them. Players like Strasburg and Corbin will have to bestow lessons onto the younger pitchers. Maybe 2022 is not a year that results in a lot of wins for the team. If the young pitchers in the organization get solid development, it will be a positive season.