The day that us baseball fans have been waiting for since last November has finally arrived – pitchers and catchers have officially reported to their Spring Training venues, and for the Washington Nationals, Viera, Florida will once again be their home in the Grapefruit League.
In previous years, the Nationals have had two or three definitive starters, with three or four spots open for players to fill in the starting rotation. This year, thanks to off-season acquisitions, the Nats have an overabundance of pitching, some strong arms that will definitely be starting, and one or two guys who could start, but instead will be relegated to the bullpen.
The highlight of the Nationals’ off-season was the acquisition of lefty Gio Gonzalez, who comes with a solid 38-32 record with the Oakland A’s, and Edwin Jackson, a righty who went a combined 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA last season with the White Sox and Cardinals, registering a double-digit win total for the fourth consecutive season. If the Nationals’ pitching coaches can get Jackson to modify his wind-up a little bit, he can definitely have a positive impact on the Nats’ starting rotation.
Gonzalez and Jackson will share the starting role with Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg, both who had Tommy John surgeries one year apart. Strasburg will be limited to approximately 160 innings, which was the same amount that Zimmermann pitched last year as he was coming back from his surgery. Other possible starters are John Lannan (whose name keeps floating around in trade rumors), Chien-Ming Wang (who pitched OK last year after shoulder sugery), and Ross Dettwiler (who has to do an outstanding job this spring to nail a starting slot). Oh yeah, and there’s Craig Stammen, Tom Gorzelanny, and Yunesky Maya who also want starting roles in the rotation!
How about the bullpen? Things there seem a bit crowded too – since it will likely include some of the starters left out of the rotation plus closer Drew Storen, hard-throwing Henry Rodriguez, All-Star Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, former Philly Brad Lidge, Ryan Mattheus, Chad Durbin, Rafael Martin, Atahualpo Severino and Ryan Perry. That’s 20 pitchers in all – obviously some of them will not make the cut after Spring Training, but for the first time in team history, it’s a nice problem to have.
Behind the plate is a different story – the role of starting catcher has been all but handed to Wilson Ramos on a silver platter. And deservedly so, since Ramos batted .267 in 133 games played last year. Ramos learned a lot from future Hall-of-Famer Iván Rodriguez, who was injured during a large part of the 2011 season, allowing Ramos to have more time behind the plate. Backup catcher Jesús Flores will do a decent job behind the plate, though his throwing arm is still questionable after shoulder surgery in 2010.
So things look promising from a pitching standpoint for the Nationals in 2012. In my next post I will discuss the Nats’ fielding, offense, and potential lineups for the regular season. While the Nationals do face some offensive deficiencies, if your pitching staff keeps you in the game every night, you don’t have to be dominant offensively to win.
About the Author
Written by Marien Hornyak
I was born and raised in Puerto Rico but have lived in the continental US for 22 years. I have a BS in Athletic Training and a MEd in Sport Management, where I did my thesis on "The History of Baseball Litigation." I am a wife, mother of 2, and self-proclaimed "Baseball Nerd." My favorite baseball players include Roberto Clemente, Kirby Puckett, and Iván Rodriguez.