As various media outlets have noted the Washington Nationals, the franchise that invited 1,472 pitchers and the surprisingly robust corpse of Christy Mathewson to Spring Training, are on the verge of having a surplus of starting pitching. Notice I didn't say a surplus of good starting pitching, nor even an excess of major league caliber starting pitching. But for a rotation that has variously employed Jerome Williams, Jason Simontacchi, Billy Traber and 1/3 of an inning worth of John Patterson, any good news is great news.
This influx of rehabilitated arms is going to require a massive game of musical chairs. The first chain reaction came yesterday, when the return of Shawn Hill bumped erstwhile starter Mike "Barryball" Bacsik into the 'pen, bouncing Billy "Quote Machine" Traber all the way out to Columbus, Ohio. To give you an idea of the roster contortions to come, here's a look at the 13-man pitching staff as of the morning of August 13th:
Micah Bowie, Jason Bergmann and (stifle your laughter, people) John Patterson are all expected back with the big club before the end of the season. If Bowie comes back he'll most likely push Bacsik or Ray King out of the bullpen and onto the unemployment line. Bergmann and Patterson, on the other hand, are both starters and will need rotation spots. And that's where things get tricky.
The current starting rotation is almost entirely different from the starting 5 that began the season. The Opening Day rotation was Patterson, Hill, Williams, Chico and Bergmann. Five months later only Matt Chico has yet to miss a start (knock wood.) Patterson and Williams pitched horribly until they were injured (or re-injured). Hill and Bergmann were having breakout campaigns until they went down. Jason Simontacchi made a brief cameo appearance and "pitched" until he was felled by a bum elbow. In their absence the Nats have auditioned pretty much anyone who made it to AAA with the ability to grip a baseball.
Now that the walking wounded are ready to make a comeback, who're the odd men out? The Nats have been surprisingly mediocre, but they're not contending for anything, so all this talk of "putting the best team on the field" and protecting "the integrity of the pennant race" should take a back seat to developing and evaluating our best pitchers for next season. Maybe Matt Chico's a little worn down by the major league grind and could use a break. But would a late season demotion send the wrong message? Is John Lannan a legitimate soft-tossing lefty, or this year's Mike O'Conner? Have Tim Redding or Joel Hanrahan shown enough to warrant another month's worth of playing time, maybe at the expense of Bergmann or Lannan?
Of course all this speculation could be moot if Hill and Bergmann aren't fully recovered, and Patterson my not pitch at all, but there here are some numbers worth noting:
- Shawn Hill - 26 years old - 2.70 ERA
- Jason Bergmann - 25 years old - 4.56 ERA
- Joel Hanrahan - 25 years old - 2.76 ERA
- Matt Chico - 24 years old - 4.85 ERA
- John Lannan - 22 years old - 3.00 ERA