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For Nationals Starting Rotation, Relief Is On The Way

I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that the Nationals starting rotation looks incomplete, but fortunately, Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross are progressing towards rejoining the staff.

The Recovery

Earlier this week, Strasburg and Ross both pitched in a simulated game at the team’s Spring Training complex in West Palm Beach, Florida. Dave Martinez didn’t disclose how many innings or pitches they threw, but he had previously stated that it should be two innings.

“They both felt good,” Martinez said, relaying information the on-site medical staff had told him. At this stage, that’s all that really matters.

Strasburg is recovering from thoracic outlet surgery (TOS), which he underwent last July. Ross was shut down in August with a partially torn elbow ligament and was subsequently delayed in order to remove a bone spur.

Both of them had already thrown 25-30 pitch bullpen sessions. The plan is for them to each throw another simulated game this weekend (likely Saturday), possibly pitching into or through the third inning. After that, the club will need to determine whether they’re ready to begin rehab assignments. The Nationals may opt to keep Strasburg and Ross in a controlled environment for a little while longer.

The Solution

Don’t get too excited yet. In all likelihood, although this is conjecture on my part, Strasburg and Ross will return to the big league rotation in 4-6 weeks — barring a setback. The Nationals are taking a cautious approach, which seems smart, considering the “rebuilding” nature of this season.

The task for the big league ball club is bridging the gap from mid-May to late-June, when two-fifths of the rotation hypothetically gets an upgrade. We know who the candidates to stick around are, but that still leaves two pitchers who otherwise wouldn’t be in the rotation forced to pitch at the major league level.

Josiah Gray and Erick Fedde both have ERAs below 4.00 (yep, that’s the new bar we have to set for “good pitching” this year). Patrick Corbin has also seen somewhat of a resurgence, pitching to a 2.37 ERA in his last three starts — his best three-start stretch since 2019.

After that, it’s patchwork. Joan Adon and Aaron Sanchez have had moments, but they’ve taken their lumps throughout the first month and change of 2022.

Before long, Adon and Sanchez will be relegated to the bullpen, Triple-A, or (in Sanchez’s case) out of the organization. We could see them again later in the season. We might also see Cade Cavalli or Cole Henry — who’s tearing up Double-A so far this season.

Why is This The Story?

Juan Soto’s struggles with runners in scoring position have been chronicled at nauseam lately. It’s a troubling trend, but I’d argue that it’s not very important for two reasons:

  1. It will correct itself over time
  2. If this season is about learning, not winning, we already know what Juan Soto is

As long as Juan Soto is in Washington, he will be a very good hitter. Can we say the same thing about the starting rotation as currently constructed?

Let’s face it. There’s no certainty that post-TOS Strasburg will look anything like his old self. We also don’t know if Ross can be effective after yet another injury. After all, it’s not as if he’s been particularly consistent up to now.

If Strasburg can’t be – at worst – a top three starter in this rotation, and if Ross looks no better than an oft-injured No. 5 starter, the Nationals need to know that. If they’re still the best versions of themselves, that solves a lot of problems for the team; but the Nationals can’t improve their rotation if they’re stuck in a state of false hope.

With that said, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel for the starting rotation. If Strasburg and Ross are able to come back relatively soon and stay healthy, the Nationals won’t see so many games start so poorly — like the first two innings of the last two games against the Mets went.

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Wednesday, 17 August 2022

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