Washington Nationals: Is Ross Ohlendorf This Year’s Zach Duke?

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Washington Nationals‘ expectations going into the season were pretty high, and there was little doubt that things would occur the way they did. One problem that was pretty obvious, however, was that there was no real pitching depth at triple-A, and there was some fear regarding Washington’s options if the team sustained a pitching injury.

One of the signings for triple-A depth was Ross Ohlendorf, a minor league signing who had bounced between the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres, and the owner of a career 5.10 ERA going into last season. Ohlendorf pitched at Syracuse for a large part of Washington’s season last year and pitched to a 4.22 ERA before his call up to the show, which saw him pitch to a 3.28 ERA while starting and relieving for the Nationals.

Ohlendorf season is pretty similar to that of another veteran who pitched the Nationals recently, Zach Duke. Duke pitched for the Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks and was the owner of a career 4.56 ERA upon signing a minor league deal with Washington before the 2012 season. He was even better than Ohlendorf, winning 15 games and pitching to a 3.51 ERA with Syracuse, and had a 1.32 ERA in eight games with Washington.

Suffice to say, Duke seemed like one of the biggest bargains of that offseason, and he was thriving as a reliever for the Nationals — until the 2013 season began, anyway.

As good as Duke was in 2012, he was that much worse in 2013. Duke was used to pitching on a starter’s schedule, and it was hard for manager Davey Johnson to get him into games consistently. This caused him to pitch to a 8.71 ERA in 12 games, which included one start, and the Nationals had no choice but to release him.

Duke was picked up by the Cincinnati Reds and pitched markedly better, posting a 0.84 ERA in 14 games. With how well Ohlendorf pitched in 2013, could the Nationals be going down the same path they followed with Duke? And if so, can they avoid it?

They could be going down the same road, though this road is pretty avoidable. It may not have been as avoidable with Duke, a left-hander which the Nationals lacked in 2013; so, him breaking camp with the team was a necessity. Ohlendorf is right-handed, and there is no reason for him to break camp with the Nationals’ bullpen, especially since the team has so many other options for the bullpen.

Ohlendorf breaking camp with the triple-A squad makes way more sense because it will keep him on a starter’s schedule, and it makes him better if he needs to come up for a spot start. He could be the next Duke, but if the Nationals follow this precautionary strategy, which is basically demote Ohlendorf so he’s pitching regularly, they will have enough veteran pitching depth to absorb any kind of pitching injury.

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