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Rotation has been surprisingly inconsistent

May 15, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT

USA Today Sports Images

Doug Fister warmed up Thursday evening at Petco Park, was ready to take the mound for the bottom of the first inning against the Padres. And then he (along with everyone else from both clubs) was forced to sit around for two hours during a rare San Diego rain delay that began only six pitches into the Nationals’ series opener.

By the time Fister actually took the mound after 9 p.m. local time, he might well have wished the game had simply been postponed, saving him from the frustration that followed.

Fister became the latest member of the Nationals rotation to get roughed up, giving up seven runs and eight hits in only two innings of work during what would end up an 8-3 loss to the Padres.

If you’ve lost track, that’s now four times this season a Nats starter has allowed at least seven runs. And in each case, that starter has failed to complete at least four innings. It happened to Jordan Zimmermann in Boston. It happened to A.J. Cole in his major-league debut in Atlanta. And it has happened to Stephen Strasburg and Fister in a span of three days, with Strasburg getting rocked Tuesday night in Phoenix.

This from a rotation widely touted as the best in baseball.

The Nationals have had their share of dominant pitching performances this season, with starters giving up zero or one run 10 times already in 2015. But the lack of consistency has been surprising, as has the end result of it all.

Nationals starters now own a collective 4.16 ERA, good enough to rank only 17th in baseball, 10th out of 15 NL clubs.

That wasn’t supposed to be the case. This was supposed to be the rotation to end all rotations, the one that featured five potential aces plus a 15-game winner relegated to the bullpen for lack of an available job.

That very well may still end up being the case. Good luck finding anyone to bet against a rotation of Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister.

But these too-frequent disastrous starts are a potential problem. They wreak havoc on a bullpen, and certainly the Nationals’ relief corps is begging for a light workload the rest of the weekend before enjoying two days off next week sandwiched around a mini-series against the Yankees.

Everybody’s going to have a clunker of a night on the mound every once in awhile, but so far those clunkers are occurring with more regularity than the Nats would like. As noted above, already four times in 36 games this season a starting pitcher gave up seven or more runs. That happened only seven total times in 2014, and in every one of those cases the starter still managed to go at least four innings.

Perhaps this will be an afterthought by season’s end and the Nationals rotation will yet prove to be among the best in the game.

But before they can even think about that, those five starters need to find a way to put together a lengthy stretch of quality outings and ditch the clunkers altogether.

  1. Joe Seamhead - May 15, 2015 at 6:09 AM

    Wow! I Guess head case must be contagious.

    • nats128 - May 15, 2015 at 8:02 AM


      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 15, 2015 at 8:25 AM

        +2 these guys didn’t forget how to pitch. They have been very inconsistent and that’s where the improvement has to come from consistency.

  2. natsfan1a - May 15, 2015 at 7:07 AM

    Eh, bummer. An unhappy game results email, and insufficient bracketing of the DVR. Guess I’ll delete and then program for the rebroadcast. Well, they did need the rain. Evidently my family is getting it on the rain in Northern California as well. That’s good.

  3. natsfan1a - May 15, 2015 at 7:14 AM

    Uh, I was scrolling through game thread comments and accidentally reported nataddicted. Please disregard. Going to go get some coffee now…

    • manassasnatsfan - May 15, 2015 at 9:04 AM

      That is all to easy to do. We have complained to no avail that the programmers placement of report next to reply is idiotic.

      Put that along with tablets that sometimes move on us and trouble is there.

      I reported myself last night.

      • natsfan1a - May 15, 2015 at 1:06 PM

        Thanks, mnf. I hadn’t yet done it, but good to know I’m not alone.

  4. ehay2k - May 15, 2015 at 8:04 AM

    I blame the Padres. Sure, they haven’t had a rain delay since 2011, but that should have made the rain on the radar really obvious! how they could start a game and only get to the second batter before the delay is beyond me. Fister suffered worse, because he had the longer wait.

    Will watch the recap on AtBat (much faster than DVR), but these games happen, and the Mets lost again as Niese, perhaps their #2, also turned in a clunker. It happens. So, we are still 1.5 back, and we get to bring the next of our 5 aces to the mound to try again tonite. Nice luxury to have.

    A series split in SD would be fine, but a win will likely have us in the division lead by Monday. In any case, the Nats just need to grind out the next 3 games in SD, then they get a day off, and then series at home against the Yankees.


    • tcostant - May 15, 2015 at 8:51 AM

      Maybe they aren’t use to reading radar?

      • ehay2k - May 15, 2015 at 1:59 PM

        If only there were some local military presence they could enlist… /snark

    • manassasnatsfan - May 15, 2015 at 9:07 AM

      This game had it been D.C. never would have had the starters warm us until after that massive cell went through.

      We might have mire delayed starts than most teams, but I like it better.

      • homeparkdc - May 15, 2015 at 10:05 AM

        Conspiracy theory: Did Tyson Ross warm up twice? Why did MW go talk to Bud Black in the 2nd (?) inning?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 15, 2015 at 10:33 AM

        Never heard what MW was jawboning about behind 2nd baseman.

      • Eugene in Oregon - May 15, 2015 at 10:57 AM

        Is he not allowed to? Do they limit what players can do during rain delays? I know hitters often spend time in the indoor batting cage.

      • manassasnatsfan - May 15, 2015 at 12:57 PM

        That question was never answered.

        Not against the rules to warm up twice when there is a rain delay, why was comment made?

  5. adcwonk - May 15, 2015 at 8:21 AM

    Werth watch:

    Over his last eight games he’s been on base every game, and is batting .290 (OBP .378), 2 HR, 5 BB

    I think he’s coming back to life.

    • Joe Seamhead - May 15, 2015 at 8:30 AM

      I agree.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - May 15, 2015 at 8:30 AM

      Werth was clearly running with an issue last night. I mentioned it in a comment mid-game and finally FP picked up on it and showed it on the video. Of course MW didn’t pull him immediately for a pinch-runner and let him finish the game.

      Something to keep an eye on.

      • ehay2k - May 15, 2015 at 8:37 AM

        “Of course MW didn’t pull him immediately..”? That was sarcasm, correct?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 15, 2015 at 8:52 AM

        Yes, I don’t get it. It was obvious on defense and super obvious when he was on base. It was raining most of the game. Why chance anything when you have MAT on the bench and TyMo and CRob.

      • adcwonk - May 15, 2015 at 9:06 AM

        Oy! That’s a bummer. (As for me, it was one of those rare nights when I actually went to sleep before the game started — I know nothing about last night’s game other than what I’ve read on NI. And, come to think of it, I’m happy to not know all the details of a clunker-game like this . . . 😉 )

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 15, 2015 at 9:09 AM

        Nats were close several times to get back into the game but couldn’t string together enough good ABs. Desi and Espi failed most of the night with the bats.

      • manassasnatsfan - May 15, 2015 at 9:10 AM

        MW had two chances to pull him, and he didn’t.

        Werth looked clueless vs. Ross who had as many pitches not in the strike zone as those in it, but Werth and many others had no patience.

        Against the relievers he was more selective.

  6. mnmindc - May 15, 2015 at 8:36 AM

    I don’t think you can just look at the high starters ERA and conclude they’ve been terrible, particularly when a number of our starters are wearing “earned runs” that were the result of terrible defensive play (see eg JZ Boston start with missed double plays, multiple dropped fly balls, etc or Gio’s start where Ramos botched a rundown that led to three earned runs for Gio).

    A quickie look at fangraphs stats reveals the following about our starters: they lead the NL (and all of baseball) in pitching WAR. This stat is designed to measure pitcher performance based on the things a pitcher can control and eliminate the defense from the equation. Whether you buy that or not, it does say the Nats starters haven’t been terrible. The other things the Nats starters lead the NL in are left on base percentage (meaning their starters are allowing an extraordinarily high number of runners on base to score) and BAPIP (meaning a very high number of balls put in play are falling for hits). Both of these two numbers tend to be variable and to normalize over time. Of course the Nats also have a very low home run rate, which is good, but that too might normalize and as Nats Park heats up, they’ll give up more homers.

    Anyway this isn’t to say Nats starters have been great. Bad BAPIP and LOB numbers are as much about bad pitching as bad luck. But the overall message in these numbers suggests the ERA will go down, assuming our pitchers are healthy.

    • jfmii - May 15, 2015 at 8:47 AM

      Good post, but you and others can not use Ramos’s botched run-down as an excuse for the pitcher. Remember that play came after a hit, after which, Stanton foolishly drifted off third. If Ramos makes the play he should have made, it would have been a huge gift for Nats pitching; when he doesn’t, one mistake just cancels another

      • Section 222 - May 15, 2015 at 11:11 AM

        This is why early season ERA is not a very useful stat. There have been times already when the defense failed the pitcher without an error being charged. There are also times when an error let’s a runner get on first an the pitcher gives up two more hits after that, but the run is unearned. Over the course of a season, these things balance out.

    • nats788 - May 15, 2015 at 2:13 PM

      Agreed, there are some bad signs but a lot stuff pointing in the right direction

  7. rayvil01 - May 15, 2015 at 8:52 AM

    I didn’t see any of the game. But, Fister has had a few starts where his ball is up. If he’s not down in the zone he’s going to get lit up. He doesn’t have enough velo to get away with being up in the zone. I’m going to assume that’s what happened last night.

    These guys in their walk year are helping the resume.

    • manassasnatsfan - May 15, 2015 at 9:14 AM

      The balls struck by the Padres the first two innings were almost all up.

      This is mechanical thing, that McCatty surely noticed before. His job then is to help the pitcher fix it.

      That has nit been accomplished yet.

  8. Nats Fan Zee - May 15, 2015 at 8:59 AM

    Can’t win them all. At the start, the bats were cold and our pitching was very good. It will all even out. A.J. Cole’s performance was a blip. For me, I think that J Zimmermann will fine, the yellow light is on with Fister … Something is not quite right but the concern (flashing red light) is Stras. He seems to have lost his breaking balls and his confidence. The others hand, Roark looks great …. Just have to give him a permanent job (starter?, long relief?, 8th inning guy? spot closer?) … What a great team player …. Just give him the ball and away he goes. A true pleasure to watch!

    BTW, must admit I thought the Mets would be hanging in stronger then they have so far … Thought they would split with the Cubs. Next week they face the Cards for four games, then we will get a read on if they are going to hang around for a while or target breaking .500 as a season goal.

  9. adcwonk - May 15, 2015 at 9:10 AM

    Roark looks great …. Just have to give him a permanent job (starter?, long relief?, 8th inning guy? spot closer?)

    I strongly suspect that a position in the starting rotation for next year is Roark’s for the taking.

  10. manassasnatsfan - May 15, 2015 at 9:17 AM

    Did anyone listen to MW last night?

    He pulled Fister after Fister batted. (Actually a nice sac bunt on a terrible pitch to bunt). Of course the runner was stranded at second.

  11. Eugene in Oregon - May 15, 2015 at 9:25 AM

    Forgive me if someone already mentioned this, but I see the Nats have sent Erik Davis to start a rehab assignment in Harrisburg. He had been off my radar screen for a while. Since he’s coming off the 60-day DL, when/if they activate him, that will require dropping someone off the 40-man roster, right?

    • manassasnatsfan - May 15, 2015 at 9:28 AM

      If there is 40 presently yes. I am guessing Reed Johnson could go to the 60 day.

    • virginiascopist - May 15, 2015 at 9:31 AM

      Good question. If we want to activate him for bullpen help, we’d obviously have to drop someone from the 40-man, but can we just leave him off the 40-man indefinitely? At least until the next Rule 5 drafts comes along and you need to protect him. I clearly have no clue how this works.

      • ITGSOT - May 15, 2015 at 11:18 AM

        They can leave him on the 60 day DL indefinitely, but as soon as he comes off he has to go on the 40 man roster immediately, or be DFA.

  12. Theophilus T.S. - May 15, 2015 at 9:49 AM

    At 10:20 or so it looked unlikely the game would be restarted any time soon, let alone completed, so I turned out the lights (the party’s over . . ., and so on), which was good judgment on my part. Looking at the box score this a.m., it looks like the hitters did reasonably well — eight hits, no golden sombreros — which addresses one of my regular concerns about playing in San Diego: the park is so unfriendly to hitters it is not uncommon to go into SD for a series and emerge in a two-week funk after trying, without success, to score runs. Fister ought to thrive at Petco but he has been “just off” several times this season and he is not a guy who can afford to struggle with his location

    Notwithstanding my satisfaction — is that the right word? — that the hitters have not yet been disabled by the ball park the Nats can’t afford to repeatedly go through the rotation with one solid start out of five. Scherzer should hold the fort tonight but Strasburg has been close to useless and the others varyingly inconsistent. They could, easily, lose three out of four to close the road trip. If Fister had won — and Scherzer done what we expect him to do — I would have favored putting Strasburg on the DL — or at least skipping a start — but I don’t think they can, at this point, concede a blowout from one of the AAA replacements; there is a marginally better chance of a successful outing from a lame (or befuddled) Strasburg than from any of the alternatives.

  13. homeparkdc - May 15, 2015 at 9:53 AM

    Wonder if Trea Turner was at the game.

    • homeparkdc - May 15, 2015 at 9:56 AM

      Better to look things up before “wondering” out loud. Probably not, he’s in San Antonio.

      • scnatsfan - May 15, 2015 at 11:42 AM

        I was just about to call the comment out as rude… til I see you did it to yourself lol

  14. masterfishkeeper - May 15, 2015 at 10:01 AM

    At least Scherzer’s been great, and seems to be improving:

    • Eric - May 15, 2015 at 11:42 AM

      Thanks for sharing…

      “For the first few years of his professional career, Scherzer had a classic case of “he should be better.” He was a solid contributor in Arizona and in his early years in Detroit, but if you watched his stuff on any given night, you were left wondering why he was above average rather than great. ”

      That kinda sounds like another guy pitching for the Nats right now…

  15. micksback1 - May 15, 2015 at 11:04 AM

    should we be concerned by the starting pitching problems? why is this contagious. In Stras ‘ case, I think what we see is what we get period. I never really see Stras being consistent at any point and there is no evidence that he ever will be. Yes , he is a strikeout pitcher but unlike the other’s he is simply not an ace or go to guy when you need him and after 5 years, the sample size is more than adequate to make that case.

    the others are a surprise to me.

    • philipd763 - May 15, 2015 at 11:23 AM

      Gio has been declining every year since his 20 win season.

    • manassasnatsfan - May 15, 2015 at 12:54 PM

      Mick why do you rarely show up when we are kicking ass, but you can be counted on after a clunker. Show up all the time. Enjoy the good games too.

      • nattygoats - May 15, 2015 at 3:54 PM

        Why are 85 percent of your comments dissing anyone who is negative. You are a boring dude

      • Joe Seamhead - May 15, 2015 at 6:59 PM

        SWM? Why are you back here?

  16. philipd763 - May 15, 2015 at 11:20 AM

    Only Scherzer has been impressive. Calling the other four starters “inconsistent” is a stretch. They have been awful. The walk year for Zimmermann, as well as Desmond, has not been kind so far.

    • manassasnatsfan - May 15, 2015 at 12:55 PM

      Their contracts might end up high, but if they actually performed like before it would be even higher.

  17. philipd763 - May 15, 2015 at 11:25 AM

    They should start feeding Stras valium now in prep for his Sunday start in front of the hometown folks.

  18. rlndtln - May 15, 2015 at 11:34 AM

    Reality.Starters so far fair at best.Bullpen poor,defense poor,bench play very good and our hitting is been ok.This does not look like a 95 win world series team in a pathetic division.

    • manassasnatsfan - May 15, 2015 at 12:56 PM

      Bullpen in reality has improved

  19. nattygoats - May 15, 2015 at 3:49 PM

    Really glad Marc wrote this. I’ve been thinking about this lately. Very bothersome. Fister JZ and Desi all playing like they are already gone for next season. The pitching seems Lazy to me also. A lot of high Fbs

  20. NatsLady - May 15, 2015 at 3:50 PM

    Inconsistent is the exactly the right word for 4/5 of the rotation.

    Fister’s game scores; 61, 60, 41, 32, 66, 53, 12 (50 is average)
    JZnn’s game scores: 62, 8, 52, 56, 53, 63, 43
    Stras’ game scores: 34, 33, 69, 44, 54, 43, 16
    Gio’s game scores: 51, 46, 56, 30, 72, 66, 30

    Mad Max: 71, 62, 79, 61, 72, 47, 68

  21. nattygoats - May 15, 2015 at 3:57 PM

    Sounds like the Padres pulled a Tom Brady

    • NatsLady - May 15, 2015 at 5:10 PM

      what did they do?

  22. Joe Seamhead - May 15, 2015 at 6:56 PM

    Okay, I’ll make the trade…for van Dekker, Brian Goodwin, and Cutter Dykstra. And I’ll throw in a bucket of balls and a year’s worth of Nats Dogs

    Seriously, with his injury baggage, and contract, I’d have to even think long and hard for a straight up deal for Tulo for Ian Desmond.

    • Joe Seamhead - May 15, 2015 at 6:57 PM

      Ok, I’ll throw the hot dogs in with Ian…





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