The Washington Nationals are the best team in the National League, but it could very well come with a high price. Yes, it’s still early in the season, but it’s worth noting that Manager Dusty Baker has yet to shorten the leash on his starters when it comes to pitch count. Stephen Strasburg has hit 119 and Tanner Roark has reached 125, and that’s just a small sample size of the workload.
Nationals Pitching Workload Already Becoming an Issue
The top four starters, Max Scherzer, Roark, Gio Gonzalez, and Strasburg, are collectively pushing 4,000 pitches a little over a month into the season. As a manager, at what point do you start pulling the starters to ensure that they aren’t too gassed for their next outing?
No Help From The Pen
The bullpen has done little, if anything, to help alleviate this problem either. The issues in the pen may be pushing Dusty to leave his starters in for as long as possible, without hitting a complete game. The Washington Nationals have already racked up a worrying nine blown saves this season as a result of relief pitching. Letting Mark Melancon walk in the offseason deeply hurt the Nats, but it’s hard to blame Melancon for following the money. This one is on the front office.
The closing position is still up for grabs, and quite frankly no position in the pen is secured. They have also been overworked with high pitch counts and more appearances than needed, but that seems to be more of a self-inflicted problem.
More Troubles Down the Road
The most alarming potential problem with the workload is it makes less certain which pitchers will be healthy by October. The Nationals have experienced this before, with Strasburg.
Overwork can lead to dead or flat arms late in the season, which can be disastrous to the rotation; the opposing club ends up playing “see ball hit ball” when a dead arm pitcher is on the mound, as his pitches have no life. We saw a case of this when New York Mets ace Noah Syndergaard pitched against the Nationals and gave up more hits than fans are accustomed to seeing seeing him allow.
There are multiple options ways for the ball club to get it’s starting pitchers some rest, including call ups from the minors for spot starts, trades for a long-inning relief pitchers, and other reinforcements to the bullpen. Dusty, General Manager Mike Rizzo, and the entire front office will have to make some crucial decisions before it’s too late, as something will have to give.