Nats show youthful pitching depth beyond Strasburg

Although the idea would seem preposterous to most baseball fans, the Washington Nationals have more options than Stephen Strasburg in their future rotation. The Philadelphia Phillies got to experience this in person, as young lefties Tom Milone and Ross Detwiler tossed 13 1/3 scoreless innings in a day-night doubleheader sweep on Tuesday. Milone surrendered four hits in six shutout frames, while Detwiler only allowed three, silencing one of the most potent offenses in the National League. Granted, the Phillies weren’t playing for anything, virtually locking up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with an outstanding record and an NL victory in the All-Star game. But don’t tell that to Washington’s two southpaws, who were both dominant.

Milone, 24, was a 10th round selection of Washington in the 2008 entry draft and made his major league debut on September 3rd of this year. He won the organization’s award for minor-league pitcher of the year a season ago with Double-A Harrisburg and continued his excellence with Triple-A Syracuse to start 2011. He used a low-90s heater and a mix of off-speed stuff to baffle hitters for the entire game. The Californian had outstanding control, throwing more than 2/3 of his pitches for strikes and hitting his spots. Through four starts at the big-league level, his control has mirrored that of his minor-league numbers, walking less than 1.5/per 9 innings pitched. Heck, he even hit a three-run homer during his first career plate appearance. A 36-16 record over the last three years in the minors will give Milone a shot at the rotation out of spring training in Viera and if next season started today, I’d put him in the starting five.

Detwiler has had plenty of chances to prove himself in the majors and finally took advantage of that opportunity in this start. He started the nightcap and had the longest outing of his career in his 28th career start, 7 1/3 innings. He added a slightly elongated stutter to his delivery that helped his command and control. The former 1st round selection from Missouri State has struggled throwing in the strike zone, but showed a lot of improvement, throwing 51 of 81 pitches for strikes. He began to wear down in the 8th inning and was taken out after allowing a single with one out. Here’s another guy that won’t overpower hitters, but relies on pitch location and changing speeds. Dewiler, who is 25 years old, has gotten chances as a starter and a long reliever in the past, so it’s unsure what his role will be next season. It’s apparent that he’s wanted in the rotation, but there will be a lot of competition for those final two spots.

These two southpaws to go along with Strasburg, John Lannan, and Jordan Zimmermann could make a youthful, but talented rotation for 2012. Lannan, another lefty, made great strides this year, but still needs to work on being consistent. Strasburg appears healthy and Zimmermann withstood 160 innings during his first full season after Tommy John surgery. The Nats will certainly go after a veteran during free agency or perhaps retain Chien-Ming Wang, but is it really necessary? Remember, Washington needs to save up money to re-sign Ryan Zimmerman to a long-term contract since his deal ends after the 2013 campaign, so it’ll most likely be a low-risk move. However, there are reports that the Lerners’ are willing to spend this offseason and Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia could opt out and go to D.C. But being realistic here, the future outlook of this franchise keeps looking better and better. Finishing in 3rd place in the NL East would be a great launching pad towards building momentum for years to come.

 

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