Moves leave rotation unclear
Injured starters bought time to heal
The Washington Nationals’ transactions were straight lines: starting pitcher A.J. Cole was called up from Triple-A Syracuse. Reliever Brandon Kintzler was activated. Starting pitcher Erick Fedde and reliever Sammy Solis were sent to Syracuse.
That’s just the beginning with these moves.
Cole was on the roster to start Wednesday night in Miami. The Nationals are playing their sixth game in five days -- a result of Sunday’s doubleheader -- and needed a spot start. Cole is part of what has been a woeful rotation this season at Syracuse. But, someone out of the regular rotation had to pitch Wednesday. He’s it.
What’s next is in question. Sending Fedde back to the minor leagues could have indicated that the Nationals think Stephen Strasburg (nerve impingement, right arm) could make his next start after being placed on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to July 24. Fedde took Strasburg’s spot July 30. Strasburg’s next starting slot could come this weekend. Tanner Roark is scheduled to pitch Friday. The Nationals have the next two starters listed as TBD.
But, Nationals manager Dusty Baker told reporters Wednesday in Miami that Strasburg “probably” will not pitch this weekend.
It’s not just Strasburg the team is watching. Ace Max Scherzer left Tuesday’s game after throwing one warmup pitch in the bottom of the second inning. He had a neck spasm. Scherzer said he has dealt with the same problem prior.
Wednesday, he joked with reporters in Miami that he went to a box store and bought a new pillow. He expects a visit to a chiropractor to fix the problem.
There is a third piece of information the Nationals are unsure of. Gio Gonzalez’s wife, Berenice, is due any day with their second child. Should Gonzalez be placed on the paternity leave list within 10 days of Fedde’s demotion, that would allow Washington to recall Fedde and Gonzalez to welcome a sibling to Enzo, who was born in March of last year.
Before Washington’s weekend juggle of its rotation, it will have a chance to put Kintzler into action. The former Minnesota Twins closer was acquired just minutes before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline to provide further help to the Nationals’ beleaguered bullpen. Kintzler will join Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle at the back of the bullpen. Though right-handed, Kintzler has reverse splits this season, which will allow Baker to pitch Kintzler against lefthanded hitters. Doolittle has been used as the team’s closer since arriving July 16. Madson has worked as the setup man.
Washington entered play Wednesday with the worst bullpen ERA (5.14) in the National League. That is more than two runs worse than leagueleading Los Angeles (2.87). No team has used its bullpen less than the Nationals. At 301 innings pitched, the Nationals bullpen trails 29th-place Arizona by 17 2/3 innings, which puts Baker in a tough place. How much does he use his new trio of relievers to help back down the workload on his starters before the playoffs? And, should he up the relievers’ usage, how much is he taking out of them before October arrives? Doolittle (30) has a history of arm problems. Kintzler turned 33 years old Aug. 1. Madson is 36. These will be prime issues until the end of the season.
This weekend, Washington just hopes to have its leading arms back on top of the rotation.