The Washington Nationals‘ first Spring Training game is this Friday against the New York Mets, and it will be the first time the Nationals pitchers will see live hitters in a different uniform. Early on, there will be less of a focus on getting the Nationals’ top four pitchers, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, regular work. Those four will probably pitch an inning or two, then the younger Nationals pitchers will have their chance to pitch.
This will be a major golden opportunity for them to open the eyes of Steve McCatty, Mike Rizzo and Matt Williams. So, who are some of these pitchers to watch, and who could be a dark horse?
Let’s start with some potential starters. Some names to watch are relatively familiar to Nationals fans who made it through the agony that was 2013. Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan and Ross Detwiler will easily be the names that will get the most pub this spring since they have all stepped into the rotation at one time or another and shown they can get major league hitters out.
News has recently come down that Detwiler has actually added a cutter to his repertoire, which should add a nice twist to things since he has been mostly regarded as a one-trick pony because he uses his fastball so much. None of these three guys are dark horses in its strictest definition, but one of them easily should have the upper hand on one, if not both of the other two. In this case, it would be hard to argue against Detwiler having the upper hand.
The bullpen should be a markedly different competition, since it is no secret that the plan in 2013 was to have one or no left-handed relievers in the Nationals bullpen. It is also no secret how poorly that plan ended up working out for the Nationals, though there will not be that problem this season, at least in theory.
The Nationals added Jerry Blevins in what seems to be their thousandth deal with the Oakland Athletics, and also seem to be set on giving top prospect Sammy Solis an extended look at being a reliever this season perhaps as a means of easing him into the major league rotation in the future. Other names to watch could be Aaron Barrett, Xavier Cedeno, Christian Garcia and Danny Rosenbaum.
Solis is coming off of his first full season following Tommy John surgery, and was solid at two levels of the minors, finishing with a 2-1 record and a 3.32 ERA. Putting Solis in the bullpen would be a smart way to monitor his innings and allow him to build up arm strength, so don’t discount him relieving — it makes a lot of sense.
Barrett saved 26 games in 30 chances in double-A in 2013, posting an impressive 2.15 ERA striking out 69 batters in 50.1 innings. Barrett seems ready to face major league hitters, though more seasoning never hurts. Cedeno was up with the Nationals in 2013 and pitched to a 1.50 ERA in his stint with Washington. The experience with major league hitters almost always is an upper hand of some sort, as is the case with Cedeno.
Garcia had what he described as a ‘miserable’ 2013 campaign as he was never able to be completely healthy, suffering from forearm to hamstring problems. Now completely healthy, Garcia is looking to build on a 2012 that saw him land on the Nationals’ postseason roster. Garcia is the textbook definition of potential with a blazing fastball and a great breaking pitch, and he would only make the Nationals bullpen better.
Finally, there is Rosenbaum, who is a starter by trade. Rosenbaum is coming off a solid 2013 minor league campaign, posting a 7-11 record with a 3.87 ERA. He probably does not have the velocity to crack the rotation as a fifth starter, though a switch to the bullpen could work out well for the young lefty, since his velocity would in theory climb because he would be throwing fewer innings.
Now that we know the players, let’s try handicapping things. Needless to say, there are more bullpen spots up for grabs than there are rotation spots, plus the three listed above are probably the three that will be picked from for the final starter’s spot. Regardless, a name to watch would be Barrett. He posted very strong numbers, and could be a key that Washington is missing.