If recent allegations that Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez may have taken performance enhancing drugs prove to be true he may be suspended for a lengthy period of time. This would leave the Nationals pitching staff almost void of a left-hander in their starting rotation and bullpen.
In 2012, Washington began the season with two left-handed starters in Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler. Another lefty, John Lannan, was sent down to Triple A Syracuse, but called up for the occasional spot start before being added to the 40 man roster in September. Lannan became a free agent at the end of the year and decided to sign with the division rival Philadelphia Phillies. This means if Gonzalez is suspended, Detwiler will be the only left handed starter on the Nationals roster.
Last season, the bullpen boasted left-handed arms Tom Gorzelanny, Sean Burnett and Mike Gonzalez. All of them became free agents and signed with other teams. This leaves Washington with no returning lefties in the pen. The top three relievers are all right-handed in Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and recently acquired Rafael Soriano.
Before the Gonzalez allegations surfaced, the Nationals brass was happy with the makeup of their pitching staff. General Manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson felt that they had a good five man rotation of three right-handers and two lefties. At the top, they could count on having Gonzalez follow right-handed ace Stephen Strasburg. This meant Washington could put a left-hander on the mound at least every third game. If Gonzalez is suspended then the Nationals may have only Detwiler to start every fifth game.
Washington had already planned on going into the season without any left-handers in the bullpen. Rizzo and Johnson feel that it is better to have guys who can get batters out consistently than it is to create lefty-righty matchups. The Nationals brass feels that the pitchers they have are capable of doing the job no matter who they face.
This may be true, but Washington must still have a plan for if they lose Gonzalez. The Nationals do not seem to have anyone left or right-handed on their current roster or in the minors that can take over for him. The free agent market is pretty bare. The one expendable player that Washington had with any trade value has already been dealt to the Seattle Mariners in outfielder Michael Morse. Whatever good will Rizzo has built up with his fellow GMs might need to be used to help acquire another arm, preferably a left-handed one.
Until this week, the Nationals off season had been a pretty smooth one. Then the rumor of Gonzalez being associated with PED’s surfaced and everything changed.
If this rumor becomes truth Washington may lose Gonzalez, and become even thinner in left-handed pitching.