Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez and the Nats were no match for Tim Hudson. Again.
There are pitchers who have success against certain opponents, and then there are pitchers who chew up certain opponents and spit them out like sunflower seeds. For Hudson, the Nats might as well be a bag of "David" brand barbecue flavor.
After dismantling the Nationals' lineup tonight during the Braves' 3-1 victory, Hudson bolstered his already-lopsided career numbers against these guys. Hudson has faced the Nats 16 times since 2005. He's gone 9-1 with a 1.50 ERA.
"For whatever reason, I've been able to go out there and throw the ball pretty well against these guys and make pitches," Hudson said. "It's not to say next time I pitch against these guys I won't be backing up third all night. But it does feel good to know that you have a history of some success against a team, just for your confidence.
Hudson's name doesn't always get lumped in with baseball's most-dominant pitchers, but a guy with a 159-83 career record and a 3.42 ERA deserves to be in their company.
"I don't think he gets enough credit," Ryan Zimmerman said. "He's pretty good. He's having a really good year. He's no fun for me to face."
Zim can say that again. His 1-for-3-with-a-walk showing tonight might as well have been a breakthrough performance against a pitcher who he previously was 4-for-28 against.
That's the thing: The Nationals have seen Hudson plenty of times. They've got a scouting report on him. They know what he throws. Hudson, though, has a way of surprising even the most-knowledgeable hitters, as he did tonight.
Afterward, Zimmerman and Dunn both noted how the right-hander came at them almost exclusively with sinkers, a departure from his usual mix-and-match assortment of pitches.
"I've faced him, I don't know how many times, and he's never just pounded me with sinkers," said Dunn, who actually was 9-for-22 with two homers previously against Hudson before going 0-for-3 tonight. "That's all me and Ryan saw tonight. Ryan's last at-bat, he saw two sliders. I've never seen him where he threw all sinkers before. He's probably one of the top three in the game. He's really good."
Perhaps one day, Strasburg will own the Braves the way Hudson owns the Nationals. We won't know for some time, though, because his status remains up in the air. Though the Nats haven't ruled out the possibility of the rookie starting Sunday against the Phillies, that's highly unlikely to happen. Strasburg would need to be able to throw with full velocity off a bullpen mound by Friday at the latest, and that doesn't look plausible.
So the Nationals need someone to start Sunday, and they're running out of minor-league/rehabbing pitchers to summon. Scott Olsen is coming off the DL to start tomorrow afternoon's series finale. Ross Detwiler has already been promoted. Jordan Zimmermann won't be ready for another few weeks.
Here, though, is a guy you should expect to see in the very near future: Jason Marquis. Remember him? $15 million right-hander who posted a 20.52 ERA in three horrid April starts before revealing his elbow was injured, requiring surgery to remove bone chips?
Well, he's just about ready to return after making three rehab starts, the latest a five-inning, four-run stint tonight for Class AAA Syracuse. All four runs came via a first-inning grand slam, so Marquis rebounded to toss four scoreless innings after that, striking out seven in the process. Seems like a strong candidate to pitch either Sunday against Philadelphia on short rest or Monday in Arizona on normal rest.
Hernandez, though, will have to figure into this equation somehow. His normal turn will come Monday, though after his surprisingly quick hook tonight, he would seem well-positioned to come back on three days' rest and take Strasburg's slot Sunday.
As always, Livo is willing to take the ball, though he lobbied for Miguel Batista to get another shot after admirably filling in for Strasburg last night.
"If they ask me, I'll do it," he said. "But Miguel did a great job yesterday, and I think he deserves to throw Sunday. If not, I'm going to be there."
Jim Riggleman downplayed that possibility tonight, saying: "I doubt if that's the way we'll go with it" when asked about Hernandez coming back to start Sunday.
Whether it's Livan Hernandez or Miguel Batista or Jason Marquis or Matt Chico, it's become clear what the storyline in NatsTown will be the remainder of the season. It's all about the starting rotation the rest of the way, with the occasional pause for the trade deadline, Bryce Harper's contract negotiation and Michael Morse's continued quest to get more than five at-bats per week.
It looks like it's going to be a revolving door of starters from now until October as Riggleman and Mike Rizzo try to find five reliable, healthy pitchers among a sea of uncertainty.
Along the way, the Nationals will face the Braves 10 more times, counting tomorrow's series finale. Which means potentially three more encounters with Tim Hudson, aka "The Nats Killer."
Good luck with that.