Nats Spring Training Preview: Starting Pitching

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Updated: February 6, 2014
Big Three

Are you ready for some baseball?

Given our frigid temperatures, Spring sure feels a long way off, but given the huge turnout at Nats Fest over the weekend, our town is ready. Nationals pitchers and catchers better be ready as well, since they report to spring training in Viera, FL on February 13th.

The legendary Davey Johnson has retired and rookie Manager Matt Williams has been handed the keys to a loaded Nationals franchise, especially the starting rotation. Hired in October, Williams is eager to get going and turn around a team that went from pre-season favorite, to ten games back of the NL East champion Atlanta Braves.

Four members of the Nationals rotation are crystal clear, the only real question will be their order in the rotation. Hard throwing right handers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann both possess stuff of a staff ace and both have labored through arm surgery and subsequent innings limits. Gio Gonzalez is among the toughest left handed pitchers in the National League, capable of shutting down any team, while posting double digit strikeouts on a given night. Newly acquired Doug Fister brings control and less strikeouts, but has been one of the most durable control pitchers over the past three seasons. The 6’8″ right hander was a big part of the recent success of the Detroit Tigers. The battle for the fifth starter should be fun to watch this Spring. The evaluation will continue into April as clubs don’t often even have the need for one until a few weeks into the season. Left hander Ross Detwiler has to be the favorite heading to Florida and all signs point to a full recover from injury. Tanner Roark is the “sleeper” in the group, but after his performance down the stretch last season, won’t be a surprise to anyone he faces.

Nationals 2014 Starting Rotation

Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals avoided arbitration, agreeing to a one-year deal. Strasburg will receive $3.975 million in 2014, plus performance bonuses. Strasburg, 25, was 8-9 with a 3.00 ERA in 30 starts for the Nationals in 2013, striking out 191 in 183 innings. The top pick overall in the 2009 draft, Strasburg had a sparkling major league debut, but required Tommy John surgery late in the 2010 season. After rehabbing most of the 2011 season, Strasburg returned with an All-Star year in 2012. Held out of the post-season that followed, due to a season inning limit, will be discussed for decades to come.

Jordan Zimmermann recently signed a 2-year, $24 million dollar deal, avoiding arbitration. Jordan will make $7.5 million in 2014 and $16.5 million in ’15. Zimmermann was the ace of the pitching staff in 2013, winning a team-leading 19 games, reaching 200 innings and being invited to his first All-Star Game. A second round pick in 2007, Zimmermann has bounced back strong from Tommy John surgery in 2009. He’s set to be a free agent following next season (2015) and although the club would like to sign him long term, Zimmermann says the two sides are “quite a ways off” and he prefers to wait.

Gio Gonzalez will begin 2014 as either the No.2 or No.3 starter in the Nationals rotation. Following All-Star seasons in 2011 with Oakland and 2012 with Washington, Gonzalez took a bit of a step back last season, at least by his standards. Gio finished the season 11-8, with a 3.36 ERA, racking up 192 strikeouts in 196 innings of work. Selected out of high school in the first round of the 2004 draft, Gonzalez made his major league debut with the A’s in 2008. The left hander spent some of 2009 back in the minors, but exploded on the scene with a breakout season in 2010.

Doug Fister was brought in from the Detroit Tigers to solidify the No.4 spot in the starting rotation. First order of business, salary arbitration. The 30 year old right hander is seeking $8.5 million, the Nationals countered at $5.5 million. Neither side wants to arbitrate and hope to get a deal done before a hearing is scheduled next month. Last season with the Tigers, Fister was 14-9, with a 3.67 ERA. Fister possesses pinpoint control, as evidenced by only 118 walks over the last three seasons, covering 587 innings.

Ross Detwiler and the Nationals also avoided arbitration, by agreeing to a one-year deal. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed. Detwiler missed most of the 2013 season because of back issues, but he was healthy enough to participate in the instructional league toward the end of the season. Yet another 1st round pick in the Nationals rotation, Detwiler in the 2007 draft out of Missouri State. Detwiler showed signs in 2011, but delivered on his potential the following season, going 10-8 with a 3.40 ERA. Only 26 years old, the 6’5″ left hander pronounced himself 100& healthy last month and was clocked on the radar gun in the 94-96 mph range.

Tanner Roark was the biggest surprise, of any pitcher in the Nationals organization. Following two years of college baseball and one season in an independent league, Roark was selected in the 25th round of the 2008 draft by Texas. Tanner found his way to Washington in 2010, acquired by trade for shortstop Christian Guzman. Tanner had his “breakout” last season in Syracuse, going 9-3 with a 3.15 ERA. The Nats called in August and Roark proceeded to go 7-1 with a sparkling 1.51 ERA, allowing less than a base runner per inning.

Nationals 2014 Long Relief/Spot Start Candidates

Taylor Jordan was chosen in the 9th round of the 2009 draft out of Brevard Community College. Jordan suffered a setback with Tommy John surgery in 2011, but exploded on the scene last year. Jordan was 2-1 with a 1.24 in six starts at Potomac, prompting a call to Double A. In Harrisburg, Taylor went 7-0 in nine starts, with a ridiculous 0.83 ERA and 0.85 base runners per inning. Skipping Triple-A altogether, Jordan made nine appearances with the Nationals, with a 1-3 record and respectable 3.66 ERA. The 25-year old was rewarded with an invitation to play in the prestigious Futures Game.

Nathan Karns was selected by the Nationals in the 12th round of the 2009 draft out of Texas Tech. After sitting out the 2010 season due to shoulder surgery, Karns was sensational the next two seasons. In 2011, Nathan made 13 starts, going 3-2 with a 2.28 ERA across two levels. 2012 was even better as the 26 year old right hander went 11-4 with a 2.17 ERA, again at two steps. When Detwiler went down with injury, Karns was called up for his major league debut, Memorial Day weekend last season. Nathan spent most of 2013 at Double-A Harrisburg, going 10-6 with a 3.26 ERA

When our Spring Training Previews resume, we’ll take an inside look at the relief pitchers.

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