Over the past couple of years, the Washington Nationals have had one of the strongest starting pitching rotations in all of baseball. But while the one through three pitchers held it down night in and night out, it was the back end of the rotation, the no. 5 pitcher, that usually let the team down.
In 2012, the Nationals had that problem solved with Ross Detwiler. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson all proved to be just as reliable as advertised, and Detwiler grew into his own as the season got started. In the offseason between 2012 and 2013, Jackson moved on from the Nationals and Detwiler assumed that fourth spot. To fill in at no. 5, the Nationals signed veteran Dan Haren.
Haren absolutely came unglued this season and was no where near the pitcher the Nationals had hoped they would get when they signed him to a one-year, $13 million contract. He finished a mediocre 10-14 with a 4.67 ERA. At one point, the Nationals lost 11 consecutive starts by Haren.
Since he was signed to just a one-year contract, it’s likely that he won’t be wearing a Nationals uniform in 2014. Actually, I would hope that he wouldn’t and I feel quite confident is saying that he won’t. So, who would fill in at number five? Well, luckily for the Nationals, they have a few different ways to go.
To start, they’ll need to agree to a deal with Detwiler, who is eligible for arbitration this season after they avoided it last offseason with a one-year contract. 2013 was supposed to be Detwiler’s season to blossom after showing plenty of potential in 2013. Instead, it was a season of injuries that eventually landed him on the 60-day disabled list thanks to a back injury.
Once they have Detwiler, they’ll then need their fifth and final starter. The first option, and most likely the best one, is Tanner Roark. After primarily pitching out of the bullpen in September, Roark then got the starting spot in August after Taylor Jordan was shut down on an innings limit. In five starts, he went 3-1 with a 1.74 ERA.
Another name that should be thrown into the hat of likely starters is Taylor Jordan. Jordan made his big league debut this past summer and showed tremendous skill and command on the mound. In nine starts, he finished with a 1-3 record and a 3.66 ERA. At the time, Jordan seemed like the favorite to move to a full-time role in 2014. Once Roark stepped onto the scene, that all changed.
Just for grins, let’s look to the free agent market. Some notable names that will be hitting the market this offseason include Bronson Arroyo, A.J. Burnett, Chris Carpenter, Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum, just to name a few. The Nationals could test the waters to see if they want to snag someone at just the right price, but they’d be better off spending that money elsewhere.
I would expect either Roark or Jordan to take over that fifth pitchers spot. Either way, the Nationals can’t go wrong. It should be a good battle once Spring Training begins in February.