|USA Today Sports Images|
Mike Rizzo shot down whatever speculation there might have been on the subject earlier this week, suggesting his trade for reserve outfielder Scott Hairston filled the only significant hole on his roster.
"You never stop trying to improve your club," the general manager said. "But with that said, we feel like we like the club that we have. We're certainly playing better, and we'll see where it takes us from here. I don't see any type of big splashy moves that are remaining."
Any acquisition of a starting pitcher would have to be classified as "splashy," so Rizzo seems to be saying he's not in the market for rotation help.
This, of course, could be a well-designed ploy on his part, not wanting to tip off the rest of the baseball world on his true intentions. And the Nationals, like every contender this time of the year, have scouts dispatched around the country filing reports on potential trade targets, especially pitchers.
The question, though, is whether they actually do need pitching help. So let's look deeper at the current construction of the rotation.
The Nationals obviously have three elite arms at the top of their rotation in Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, and those three have carried the staff through the season's first month. The Nats' record in games started by the big three: 33-20. That's a .622 winning percentage, which over an entire season would equate to 101 wins.
The problem comes after Zimmermann, Strasburg and Gonzalez. When anybody else starts a game, the Nationals are 13-24. That's a .351 winning percentage, which over an entire season would equate to an abysmal 57 wins.
How does that compare to last season? Well, in 2012, the Nationals had a staggering .696 winning percentage when Zimmermann, Strasburg or Gonzalez started, equating to 113 wins over a full year. When anybody else started, they won at a .486 clip, the equivalent of 79 wins.
So, they're not as successful this season behind the big three, but they've certainly been successful enough. They haven't been anywhere close to successful enough when anybody else starts.
Thus, the Nationals need to win more games pitched by their No. 4 and No. 5 starters. Can they do that with the current selection of arms? Only if Ross Detwiler gets healthy; he had a 2.53 ERA in seven starts before straining his oblique in mid-May, a number that has skyrocketed to 6.28 in six starts since. And only if Dan Haren gets better; the Nats haven't won a game he started since May 9, a stretch during which his ERA is 6.66.
What are the odds of both positive developments taking place? Well, the Nationals hope Detwiler's current stint on the DL (with a lower back strain) cures this problem once and for all and allows the left-hander to get back into his peak form. They're also hoping Haren recaptures his form of previous years and becomes the stalwart they expected all along. That, though, seems less plausible a scenario.
What about other in-house options? Taylor Jordan has acquitted himself well in his first three big-league starts and has impressed teammates with his raw talent, though opposing hitters seem to be figuring him out once they get a few at-bats against him.
"I think when new pitchers come up, they have the advantage the first couple starts at least, because there's not much video on him and nobody knows what they tend to do," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "This league, there's a reason why it's hard to stay around. Because there's so much information that if you can't adapt or adjust to what the league does to you, it's tough. But I think he's got the stuff to do that. I don't see why he can't."
Counting on Jordan to hold down the fort as the Nationals' No. 5 starter the rest of the season, though, is a risky proposition at best. Remember, the 24-year-old is in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, and though the club hasn't made any public declarations about it, he's on an innings limit, probably around 140. (After last night's start, Jordan has thrown 106 innings this season.)
After all that, the conclusion seems fairly obvious. Can the Nationals get by without acquiring another starter? Only if Detwiler and Haren collectively can improve at least enough to win 50 percent of their starts.
The acquisition of another, more reliable starter to fortify the back end of this rotation seems like a safer bet.