Last night, the Nationals continued their excellent start to their road trip, moving to 3-1 after taking down the Atlanta Braves 7-4. Still, for the first of eighteen games against a Braves squad that is still only two games back, and with every team in the NL East within four games, you would hardly think the win would bring potentially big news. But with starter Ross Detwiler struggling to throw strikes after being staked to a four-run lead in the top of the first, manager Davey Johnson pulled the plug after only 4 1/3 innings and 100 labored pitches. And in came Chien-Ming Wang, who tossed three innings in relief for the victory, allowing three hits and one run on a Jason Heyward solo shot in the bottom of the eighth. Naturally, after the game Davey was asked about whether he was considering swapping Detwiler for Wang. He cryptically replied, “Yes and no.”
Hmmmm. Not a surprising answer for a DC man, and I’m actually kind of glad he also said he didn’t want to make any sort of decision in the heat of the moment, because despite Detwiler’s recent struggles, I still think he is the better pitcher than Wang. Now, being the better pitcher doesn’t mean he is the best option to take the ball every fifth day. Ross has yet to go more than 6 1/3 innings in any of his 9 starts so far, which puts additional strain on a bumped and bruised bullpen. And his May has been ugly: 5.74 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and just one win. But I don’t think he is as bad as those numbers indicate (his May FIP is 3.69, which points to a lower ERA once his absurdly low strand percentage (59.1%) normalizes). Then again, he isn’t the sub-2 ERA pitcher of April either. He is somewhere in between, which his current 3.88 ERA correctly reflects. The journey there though has just been of two extremes, which makes this moment so stark for a potential change.
Wang’s career ERA (4.15) and FIP (4.05) seem to point to a solid innings-eating pitcher whose success has been based on getting a lot of ground balls (59.4% career) which just also happened to translate to a bushel of wins with the high-scoring Yankees. But wins are often not reflective of a pitcher’s underlying skills, and Wang’s skills don’t appear to be quite as good as Detwiler’s. However, three key questions must be answered before I would finalize the Detwiler-Wang question:
- Would Wang address one of Detwiler’s weaknesses, his inability to pitch deep into games?
- Does Wang’s injury history and concerns about getting his shoulder properly warmed-up out of the bullpen dictate that he pitch as a starter?
- Do the Nationals need to feature Wang as a starter if they want to use him as a trade chip?
The answer to the second question is only known by National’s management, coaches, doctors, and Wang himself. I’m going to speculate that if they really thought putting him in the bullpen could place him at greater risk of getting hurt, we would have never seen him last night. Then again, teams across MLB over and over have shown a tremendous ineptness in keeping pitchers healthy, so take my speculation for what it is worth. Similarly, I’m not plugged into front-office thinking across baseball, so it is hard to say what value Wang carries and whether two months of starting would be enough to land another piece for the Nats (catcher???). My hunch (I’m throwing darts everywhere baby!) is that teams would need to see Wang start and prove that he is healthy before they would give up even a marginal player. But the again, if the market for Wang isn’t going to yield you much in the way of talent that will improve your club, then I’m of the notion that you can never have enough starting pitching.
As for the first question, Wang hasn’t pitched seven or more innings since 2008, which appears to make largely moot any advantage Wang would have over Detwiler going deeper into games. Granted, Wang has been injured for large stretches since 2008. However, his bum shoulder and middling skills don’t scream out for an absolute need to make the swap.
And that’s what I can’t help but take away from looking at the potential change. Detwiler is the better pitcher with better skills whose chief weakness would not be remedied by Wang. Ross is not leaps and bounds better, but I think he is still deserving of holding down the 5th spot. Now watch Davey announce the move later today. 🙂
Game ball(s): Ian Desmond and Rick Ankiel, whose single and triple helped fuel the Nationals four-run first inning which was a breath of fresh air for a team that usually starts slow.
Goat(s): Detwiler. I just spilled a lot of ink defending you so it pains me that you couldn’t do more last night to pitch aggressively.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Consider this the column’s third game ball, as Ryan Zimmerman’s three-run double came at just the right time to pad the National’s dwindling lead.
Current Record: 27-18
So, about midway through last night’s 4-2 win over the Pirates, I was starting to think, “Your starting pitcher strikes out a baker’s dozen and you are going to lose. K.” It seemed to sum up the woeful state of the Nationals offense, which coming into the night, was tied for second in least runs scored and had the fourth-worst slugging percentage (.354) in baseball.
And then, BAM! Roger Bernandina solo homer to deep center. Adam LaRoche, two-run home run to center as well. Rick Ankiel solo shot to right. Well, Ankiel’s was a showy tack-on piece in the top of the ninth, but he’s a lefty so that’s to be expected. Anywho, even though the Nationals managed to post only four runs on their three home runs, it was enough to avoid the series sweep against the Pirates and for me to not use more annoying teenage quips. Yeah kids, I used quips.
Game ball(s): Sure, Strasburg whiffed a bushel, but without LaRoche once-again supplying the bulk of Washington’s offense, the Nats losing streak would have been extended to four games.
Goat(s): Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa because I can’t decide if weak pop-ups or grounding into double-plays annoys me more at the moment.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Strasburg. A touch wild late and he ran up the pitch count in just six innings. But that tends to happen when you k 13 hitters. I could think of worse things cough playing golf the day after you miss a start due to an “injury” cough.
Current Record: 19-12
Baseball is a funny game. It seems you can’t actually win a game without scoring much in the way of runs, a notion the excellent-pitching, horrible-hitting Nationals have bumped their heads up against during their now five-game losing streak.
Tonight saw this tiring scene play out again, with Jordan Zimmermann delivering a solid start, only to be outpitched by Trevor Cahill. And well, his team scored for him, resulting in Washington falling to the Diamondbacks 5-1. Alas, the notion survives another night.
Goat(s): You could probably nominate any Nats hitter, but I’m going to single out Rick Ankiel for a particularly poor night at the dish, which included grounding into a double-play with two on and no one out in the bottom of the sixth with Washington only down 2-0. Maybe Davey will take a GIDP as a sign of the hitting yips and act accordingly???
Bryce Harper is still only 19: I hope I can post the video tomorrow, but Harper gunned down John McDonald at home trying to score on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh with a laser from deep left field. Impressive. Unfortunately, the ump blew the call and called McDonald safe, pushing the Snakes lead to 4-0.
Current Record: 14-9
Ross Detwiler is tied for the second lowest paid player on the Nationals, bringing in $485,000/year. I know. Oliver Twist sends Detwiler $10 a month. But on a team with a nearly $81 million payroll, the value Detwiler is delivering to start the season is unmatched. After tonight’s sparkling 2-0 winning effort against the Marlins, Detwiler now sits at 2-0 with a .56 ERA (yep, .56) and is averaging close to a k/inning. In a word, he has been dominant.
Now, if the dreaded fantasy baseball curse hadn’t reared its ugly head again last night, the Nationals would be riding a five-game winning streak. Alas, I went with sound fantasy baseball tactics and started Bud Norris and lo and behold, won in fantasy but lost in real life.
Game ball(s): Detwiler. Though I have to say I’m not keen on pulling him after just six innings and 79 pitches. If you’ve got a pitcher on that sort of roll, why prematurely pull the plug? The broadcasters say the Nats are still in the process of building up Detwiler’s stamina, but call me crazy, how does throwing three less pitches this outing than last build up his stamina?
Goat(s): Hanley Ramirez. 0-4, 3 whiffs and 3 runners left stranded. I see for one night the fantasy/real life scripts have been flipped.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Rick Ankiel, who got three of Washington’s four hits, including the game-winning home run. That will work.
Current Record: 11-4
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It may have taken
over five hours. And yeah, they had to endure two rain delays, including one
that dropped hail (yes, hail) on the field at Nationals Park. But it was all
worth it, as the Washington Nationals found their way into the victory column
for the first time this season, beating the Atlanta Braves 6-3 this afternoon.
Nationals today, it is refreshing to see a team that is much sounder on defense
(and capable of making more plays), and able to gut out tough innings with the
bullpen. After tying the Pirates (argh, we’re terrible) with the most errors in
baseball last season (an absurd 127), two consecutive error-free games to start
the season is a relative treat to watch.
One thing I’m
interested in going forward is how the Nationals will handle the ninth inning.
Today, manager Jim Riggleman went with the left-hander, Sean Burnett, to get
the last out in the bottom of the 8th (lefty Freddie Freeman was up) and to
close out the ninth. Drew Storen, the once, and still presumed future closer,
was used to get two outs in the eight, and in the process, managed to cough up
a home run to Alex Gonzalez. As I said in my season preview, it is critical for
the franchise’s future that the Nationals get Storen right and back to nailing
down games at the end. For now, it remains a work in progress.
So, first things
first: The Nationals go for the series win tomorrow!
Game 2 Natties
Game Ball: Rick Ankiel. We got the better of the 2
true outcomes today. And a tip of the cap to Jim Riggleman for calling a
suicide squeeze with Ankiel the at-bat after he hits a home run. Crafty call
leading to a nice insurance run.
Goat: Tommy Hanson, Braves. The young ace
didn’t locate his pitches well and the results showed. And yes, Chad Gaudin, I
took note that you somehow continue to be employed based on illusory stuff that
never translates to quality results (career ERA of 4.61/career xFIP of 4.64).
Nice first pitch home run surrendered to Dan Uggla.
Bryce Harper is a ways off: Tyler Clippard, throwing gas, getting 5
big outs in the middle innings.
Current Record: 1-1