Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cobbling together a staff

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
With others hurt, the Nats need Craig Stammen to step up.
The No. 1 starter is now on the shelf, sidelined for at least one outing with a swollen elbow. The No. 2 starter has been on the shelf for the last two weeks, sitting on the DL with bone chips in his elbow. Another member of the Opening Day rotation has been on the DL since early April with a neck injury (though, even if healthy, he would have been sent to the minors because of ineffectiveness).

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.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Its got to be quite frustrating to Rizzo and Riggleman to piecemeal together pitching strategies for these games. Marquis is going to need surgery-period. Wang is at a snails pace, August till Zimm II? The relievers with the exception of Clipp do nothing to relive one's blood pressure when you see them being sent in at critical moments. But rest assured our guys got grit and they will hold on and hold tough with chins up till REAL relief comes (STOREN!)Please no Balestar..we don't need another Killer B... Smoke'em tonight Scott!

Doc said...

The sleeper here is Andrew Kown--rhymes with 'unknown'! Unknown to the hitters that he would face which is the best weapon a young pitcher coming up from the minors can possess.

All the other suggested unfortunates are KNOWN! Mostly KNOWN would also be one that you didn't mention---Matt Chico. Let's see if Rizzo gets it right!

Diz said...

18/29 on the road in May (including a west coast swing), with 5 against the Marlins, who we'd need Sherlock Holmes to solve, and 13 of the 29 against teams within a hair of 1st or in 1st in their division (Mets - 5, STL - 2, SF - 3, SD - 3).

Throw in the infirmary we call a pitching staff and you have all the makings of another Chicken Little story in the "Not so Merry Month of May."

Section 222 said...

This is a really tricky situation for Rizzo. If Martin were on schedule, he'd be the likely choice. If he's a last minute scratch tonight, I guess we'll know. Otherwise, probably Batista. That's a problem not only because he probably will get shelled but because the rest of our bullpen will get alot of work. Better eat your Wheaties Tyler Walker.

Beyond the Saturday night slot, there's a pretty obvious solution: BRING HIM UP!

P. Cole said...

Is Shairon Martis in the mix at all? He did win several games for the club last year.

Anonymous said...

For a short-term solution, I'd consider using Clippard as a fill-in starter. While he is very valuable out of the pen, one or two starts won't kill his momentum.

Mark Zuckerman said...

P. Cole: Martis has a 6.20 ERA at Syracuse and has put 42 men on base in 24.2 innings.

Anon: No chance Clippard gets the start. He can't go more than three innings at this point, and you'd leave the bullpen with only one reliable arm in Capps.

BowdenBall said...

Gotta be Martin. An extra two days' rest isn't a difficult adjustment, he's on the 40 man, he pitched decently against the Marlins last year, and he's clearly the most deserving candidate in Syracuse (other than Strasburg).

Jack in Florda said...

Mark,

Any chance Aaron Thompson gets the call for 1 start?

Doc said...

Mark, what's the skinny on Andrew Kown?

erocks33 said...

I still say it'll be Matt Chico ...

Anonymous said...

Mark:

Also a good relief appearance by Burnett last night.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Jack: Thompson should be slated to go tonight for Harrisburg. But that's a possibility, if only because he's already on the 40-man.

Doc: Kown is a guy who has quietly done a nice job. He appeared in several games this spring, usually as a 9th- or 10th-inning guy. He's not as highly touted as the others, but if he keeps pitching well, he'll force his way into the mix.

Also, remember everyone: If they do call someone up, someone else has to go down. They only have six relievers at the moment, so it would probably be an outfielder. Or Lannan could wind up on the DL.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Oh, and for what it's worth, Matt Chico does line up perfectly to start Saturday. And he's already on the 40-man.

Ephesius Remsen Hammersley said...

Looking at the 40 man roster, my bet is on Thompson or Chico because it it likely for only 1 start.

Mark, what is the rotation schedule for those two would either match up with Lannans slot? If not, any thoughts of a 4 man rotation for one turn and then if Lannan needs more time to heal calling someone up then?

for what my two cents are worth, I tlike the current rotation now better than the one that included Lannan and Marquis, not a fan of either of them because they are #4 and #5 starters in the front on the rotation!! Add Stephen to these 4 guys in a month and viola we are talking wildcard!!!

Nats fan in NJ said...

Gotta put Lannan on the DL. Really, it's only missing a second start anyway and we need both the bench and bullpen depth. I think it'll be JD Martin, but Kown is an interesting x-factor that I hadn't considered. And even though I have a mancrush on wanting to see Chico succeed, he hasn't done it in the Minors to deserve it yet this year, imho.

Anonymous said...

You know what I just realized, Tyler Walker has the lowest xFIP of any pitcher on our team, at 2.64. Maybe we should start using him more.

Todd Boss said...

Chico hasn't done anything to deserve the start despite it being his turn and a logical callup. Martin makes most sense based on his performance last year (arguably the 2nd best starter on the staff in 2009) and so far this year in AAA. Would love to see Thompson get a shot but Martin probably gives them a better chance of winning.

DJ said...

Um, Chico and Thompson both have solid numbers in the minors this year. I'd rather see one of them take the mound rather than J.D. Martin.

alexva said...

I think it's a borderline call but if you look at Chico's last three starts they are pretty good.

Anonymous said...

FWIW Andrew Kown matched zeros with SS at one minor league game I saw at Spring Training. SS got all the attention and had more K's but Kown was equally effective in this particular outing with a great curve ball. Maybe he doesn't deserve to be "Unknown".

Steve M. said...

Matt Chico. What a great story that would be if he put in a quality start!

Aeoliano said...

Its interesting to note that in Riggleman's interview he praises Batista's single out in what was sure to be a disaster were he left in? As a 'huge thing'? Yet fails to mention Burnett's work? I know they're winning but there is something not quite right with his approach to things? Have to wonder if he would even use Storen were he available to him as much as he did English (very little)?

In 17 innings of work Batista has allowed 3 home runs, 2 HBP's, and 12 walks against 8 strike outs? His ERA is 6.11, his WHIP is 1.47. Not as bad as Bruney's 2.31. But still? This guy was signed to a minor league contract and I'm not sure he would be someone SYR could rely on in a relief / spot start role? When compared to Andrew Kown? Why is this guy even on the roster? Can someone explain that to me? His ST was horrendous compared to most all the other pitchers yet he was given the "veterans excuse" by Riggleman?

Tyler Walker has allowed 4 home runs in his 14.1 innings but he at least has only 1 walk against 17 strike outs. Brian Bruney has only allowed 1 home run, but 15 walks against 11 strike outs in 13 innings. Neither of these two has an HBP.

Again, how did Miguel Batista go from a guy with a minor league contract to pitch in Syracuse to Riggleman's go-to guy ... that he keeps trying repeatedly when he feels he can't overuse Clippard and Capps? Can someone ask Riggleman what his thinking is ... because there are days when it seems like he thinks he is back in Chicago with a much younger Miguel Batista?

Chris said...

Chico's minor league numbers don't merit a call-up but Martin's do?

Explain please.

Aeoliano said...

Sounds like Jordan Zimmmermann is also way ahead of schedule. Unlike Wang, already pitching live batting practice, etc. Have to figure that it won't be until August, if they are lucky, before you see Wang even close to a rehab start. But by then Zimmermann may be ready to return to the rotation?

Now you've got 2 96mph+ fast ballers in the rotation. It seems more likely that Wang will have to come into ST and try to win a job ... he may end up in the minors as pitching inventory.

Ephesius Remsen Hammersley said...

Mark,

Will Stephen face any of the Brave4s top porspects when he pitches against Gwinett?

Doc said...

Thanks Mark and Anonymous for the info on Kown. Seems like he has had recent performances that merit more attention than some others.

Our Number One Starter Strides in the minors--soon to toss terror into the hearts of would-be MLB players. He will make Major Leaguers into Minor Leaguers. Heyward will go wayward, and twist his right ankle the wrong way. We await the Chosen One! Hosanna baby!

Aeoliano said...

Matt Chico is pitching in AA Harrisburg. JD Martin is in AAA Syracuse.

In 4 starts JD Martin has a 3.97 ERA, 6 walks against 14 strikeouts with a WHIP of 1.28. He also has 2 HBP's and allowed 2 home runs all in 22.2 innings of IL work.

In 5 starts Matt Chico has pitched 26 innings of work. His ERA is 3.12, His WHIP is 1.27. He has also allowed 2 home runs, 7 walks against 17 strikeouts with 0 HBP's. But its in AA ball which is known as a pitchers's league.

That would be the difference. They haven't promoted Strasburg from AA to the majors. If they were going to promote anyone from AA to the majors it would be Strasburg, Storen, and perhaps Thompson. The claim is that there are better, veteran major league hitters in AAA ball.

greg said...

AA is known as a pitchers league? wha? really?

Chris said...

@ Aeoliano

Sooo, you're saying Chico has better numbers than Martin, eh?

Quick observation for ya..

Storen, Strasburg, Thompson and Chico. One of these things is not like the other...one of these things just doesn't belong...

Surely you can guess who and why...

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