Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
With others hurt, the Nats need Craig Stammen to step up.
Which leaves the Nationals currently counting on Livan Hernandez, Scott Olsen, Craig Stammen and Luis Atilano to carry their pitching staff.
And yet, they're somehow pulling it off.
The Nats are two games over .500 this morning thanks to the brilliant relief work of Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps, some rock-solid defense across the diamond and a productive lineup that has gotten contributions from every member of the roster. And they're two games over .500 in spite of the fact they've had to cobble together a starting rotation with chewing gum and chicken wire.
Think about this. If someone told you at the season's outset both John Lannan and Jason Marquis would be injured, and Chien-Ming Wang and Ross Detwiler were still months away from joining the staff, you'd have assumed the doomsday scenario. Worst record in the majors again for the Nationals.
They're not the worst team in the majors, not by a long shot. They've got the 10th-best record in baseball, and they're doing it with a makeshift rotation.
Hernandez has been brilliant. Atilano has sparkled in his first two starts (he returns to the mound tonight against the Braves). Olsen hasn't allowed a run in his last two outings. Stammen has had two stellar starts and three ragged ones.
It's probably asking too much for those four guys to carry the load long-term. But where are else is help going to come from? Marquis can say his arm feels great and that he's ready to get back on the mound, but the Nationals aren't going to rush him back too soon. Lannan can hope he only misses one start with his elbow ailment, but you can't assume he's going to magically reappear in 10 days and pitch the rest of the season with no more flare-ups.
And all those pitching reinforcements that the club was touting at the end of spring training? None of them is close to joining the staff. Wang still hasn't thrown to live hitters in Viera and at this point may not be ready by the All-Star break. Detwiler is farther along in his recovery, but he's still weeks away from beginning a rehab assignment. Jordan Zimmermann has made serious strides in his return from Tommy John surgery, but the club won't let him come back before 12 months have passed since last August's procedure.
Stephen Strasburg? Not quite yet, my friends. You've got to wait one more month for that.
So who starts Saturday night against the Marlins, taking Lannan's spot? J.D. Martin? (He's scheduled to pitch for Syracuse tomorrow.) Andrew Kown? (He's not on the 40-man roster.) Collin Balester? (Um, have you seen his 11.57 ERA at Class AAA?) Miguel Batista? (He didn't exactly inspire a lot of confidence in the ninth inning last night.)
It looks like the Nationals will have to continue cobbling this rotation together, hoping somehow the man-made levee holds on a while longer and, against the odds, allows this surprising club to continue hanging in there.