Handicapping the Washington Nationals' Fifth Starter Battle After a Full Month of Spring Training

By Nick Comando
David Manning-USA TODAY Sports
David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

As the Washington Nationals‘ Spring Training officially hits one month, every candidate for the fifth spot in their rotation has appeared in games. Ross Detwiler, who was considered the pre-spring front-runner, has started all three games he has appeared in. He has pitched to a 6.43 ERA in his seven innings pitched and has allowed 14 hits and five earned runs in those starts. Taylor Jordan has pitched slightly better, as he has a 3.86 ERA in his appearances with nine hits and three earned runs in seven innings pitched. Tanner Roark is right between the two, as he has a 4.50 ERA and has allowed nine hits and four earned runs in his appearances.

As every informed baseball fan knows, Spring Training statistics can be very misleading. For the lion’s share of their appearances, pitchers are either building up arm strength or tinkering with things. It is very rare to see a starter or reliever go full effort in any of their spring appearances unless it is their last appearance before the season starts. Also, there is not a huge concern with pitching a lot of innings in the spring, so if a pitcher goes three innings but allows four or five runs, their ERA is obviously going to look worse. Watching a pitcher actually pitch is paramount aside from just watching their stat lines fluctuate.

Having seen Jordan and Detwiler pitch, it is pretty safe to say Detwiler’s numbers are slightly misleading and Jordan’s are relatively on point with where he is. In his starts, Detwiler has had very good life on his fastball, has hit his spots consistently, but unfortunately has had a big inning where he allows some hits and had some tough luck in the field with errors. That makes the ERA jump a bit, but nothing looks to be wrong with Detwiler. Jordan has been relatively similar to Detwiler’s starts as he has hit his spots and changed speeds well. Jordan had some good movement on his sinker and gotten ground balls consistently, which is 90 percent of his game.

Having seen Detwiler and Jordan combined with the knowledge of Roark as a pitcher, it is slightly hard to handicap who could be the front-runner for the fifth spot in Washington’s rotation. However, it would be relatively safe to say that regardless of the statistics available and fan favoritism, Detwiler has to be the front-runner. Washington is most likely going to give him every available opportunity to make the rotation. Detwiler was a very high draft pick in 2007 and has yet to really tap into his potential as a starter. This is a make or break year for Detwiler, and that is exactly what makes him a front-runner to round out the rotation for Washington.

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