Nationals Baseball: Strasburg - you want him on that mound. You need him on that mound.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Strasburg - you want him on that mound. You need him on that mound.

There are two way to look at the Nats situation right now.

The optimist sees a team that has won 7 of 9 and made up 4 games on the division leading Mets. The pitching has looked stronger. The bullpen feels like it's working itself out. The offense has been a bit up and down but given the previous two sentences, "up and down" is enough to win more games then they lose. Ramos and Desmond are hitting and Bryce flashed again his team-carrying potential. They aren't where they want to be yet but they should be soon.

The pessimist sees a team that put itself so far out of the lead early that going 7-2 while the division leader goes 3-5 still has the team out 4 games. Strasburg might be hurt. ZNN still doesn't have his fastball (neither does Fister). The bullpen is still shaky. The offense has yet to find any consistency. Zimm still isn't hitting, may be hurt. Werth still isn't hitting, may be hurt. Rendon still isn't playing, is hurt. It could be a long slog to where they want to be.

I said it earlier this week but I think the most important piece of the puzzle is the starting pitching. I think that's fine. I don't worry too much about ZNN or Fister's velocity because pitching has never been just a challenge of who can throw the hardest. There is a certain top speed level (kind of around 90MPH) where it become very difficult to pitch but where Fister and ZNN are? You can still be effective, even good. A small drop in velocity doesn't really effect Fister's approach and ZNN appears to be successfully adjusting on the fly. So that means the Nats have four arms you can count on right now. The fifth? Well...

Strasburg's injury is concerning. It could be just a minor thing. He obviously was pitching through it and he hasn't gotten out of routine yet. Maybe he just misses a start or not even that. However, just because you can pitch through it or it doesn't hurt too bad doesn't mean there isn't a bigger issue behind it. And if it's a shoulder issue... there goes the season. The cascade effect from something like that would be doubly painful. Part of the reason the pen feels to be gelling is the use of Tanner Roark in more critical situations. If he has to stretch out and take Stras' place in the rotation the bullpen is thrown into complete flux again. If you decide to keep him in the pen, well they thought AJ Cole was their best option and you saw how that went. Either way a hole is created just when we thought the Nats might have everything covered after 30 games of guessing. Keep your eye on this.

The offense is going to be all over the place but if you were smart you knew that going in. It could be a very good offense if everyone was healthy but the Nats aren't a particularly healthy squad. So predicting health would be a big mistake. (In fact Span and Werth and Rendon (hell - and Yunel) were all hurt to start the year.) As injuries come and go and the normal streaks of an offense come into play there is going to be some real low times and some times when the offense looks championship caliber. You just have to accept it.

I come down them some what in between the optimist and pessimist (booooo me! too waffley!). I start on the pessimist's side. The Nats had a good 10ish game run, the Mets had a mediocre one. The Mets still have a firm lead. That's the problem with digging a hole. The Nats can't go 7-3 while the Mets go 3-5 and have that be that. The Nats would have to go 14-6 while the Mets go 6-10 to close the gap. That's a bigger thing to ask for. The Nats aren't that good. The Mets certainly aren't that bad. Closing the gap will take more than a week.

But will it be a long slog? It might but it doesn't have to be. That's up to timing. And really being out a series or so shouldn't feel that bad. As long as the Marlins and Braves kind of slip away I don't mind being 2-3 games out as far as the All-Star game. I think as long as you can keep yourself around that level you're always just one good week for you and one bad week for the other guy from being where you want to be. That'll happen at some point. The key is tempering your own performance and having the team you are chasing not get lucky and reel off another hot streak. The latter we can't do much about. We have to hope the Mets innate 85 win talent keeps that from happening again. The former, well the starting pitching should help avoid any really bad 10 game runs. Should - we've seen how that's a "should" in the first couple weeks. But "should" is better than "have no idea, let's hope really hard". Very few teams are "should". The Nats are.


Kenny B. said...

Stras's comments indicated that this is something that has happened to him before, and that it is pretty minor. If there is something seriously wrong, it seems to be in or under the shoulder blade. Knowing absolutely nothing about these matters, I can't say what that means, but that's the information we have.

Being a few games behind the Mets at this point, after such a big hole, we can't really be too upset. For whatever reason, the Mets as an organization seem to struggle late in seasons, while the Nats are known for being second half studs. Maybe that's all just random season fluctuation and finding a pattern in a set of coincidences, but it has happened the last few years, so there's no reason to think it can't happen again, unless of course more injuries happen.

I would hate to see the pen fall back into disarray, but you can do a lot worse as a team than Roark as your fifth starter. And Solis's strong relief performance behind Strasburg is encouraging that the pen may still have some options left.

Donald said...

If Strasburg were to miss a turn in the rotation, would Roark get the start or would they try Cole again? I would hope that it would go to Roark, but he's been really impressive in the pen lately and I don't know how well stretched out he is to go 5 or more innings. I'm assuming if Stras had to be out for a longer stint on the DL, they'd use Roark, but I'm not sure about a spot start at this point.

When Janssen returns, who gets sent down? Solis? Trienen? Or do they expand the pen and send down Taylor?

John C. said...

FWIW, "under the shoulder blade" means the likely culprit is the subscapularis muscle. While that muscle does implicate the shoulder and is considered part of the "rotator cuff" (it originates on the underside of the scapula and inserts on the front of the knob of the humerus), it's not really one of the "at risk" muscles for pitching. When you hear "rotator cuff" or shoulder injury, the muscles are the other rotator cuff muscles (the supraspinatis, infraspinatis and teres minor) and the most common (and dangerous) injury is the torn labrum (SLAP tear: "superior labrum anterior to posterior).

Bottom line, this is more of a 2 on the 10 point concern scale than the 8 it would be if it were more closely associated to the shoulder.

FWIW, I've trained as a massage therapist and had pitching-related shoulder surgery (SLAP tear, biceps tendon, supraspinatis and infraspinatis, and an impingement in the joint). What can I say? I was trying to combine it all in one go.

Bjd1207 said...

@John C - I heard "its not THIS shoulder muscle, its THAT shoulder no...a little to the left...yea, close to there. Don't worry about it"

SM said...

To John C.:

Curious: Can you throw? And how--if at all--did the surgery affect your non-sporting activities?

John C. said...

Can I throw? That's complicated, first of all by the fact that I'm 53. After a lot of rehab I got back to pitching last year. Played spring, summer and fall leagues and probably overdid it a bit and the shoulder got a little tender. An MRI didn't show any actual damage, but there were a "couple of areas of concern" and the ortho advised me to quit pitching. I haven't started again yet, but I miss it big time. Will judgment win out over baseball? Too soon to tell. :)

The shoulder has been a bit prone to soreness if I sleep wrong, but that's been true for years. Not surprising, given that I've been pitching pretty steadily since 1994 (with nearly two years off after breaking my arm). That's continued post-surgery, but it hasn't worsened. The extensive rehab that I did has pretty much restored my strength and range of motion.

One thing I do recommend for anyone having shoulder surgery is to use the nerve blocker as part of the recovery. I'd always heard that shoulder surgery can be very painful. I was offered a chance to have a nerve block put in (a catheter pumps novocaine onto the brachial nerve for 3 days after surgery). That helped a lot. I really had very little in the way of pain or discomfort after the surgery, which may have helped jump-start the rehab process as well.

G Cracka X said...

Do we still view the Mets as the bigger threat to win the division, or do we think the Marlins will eventually overtake them and become the Nat's main division hallenger?

G Cracka X said...

challenger, I meant

SM said...

To John C.


But wait--you broke your arm, too?

You have the longevity of Satchel Paige, but the body of Pete Reiser.
Truly impressive.

Good luck and keep playing.

Froggy said...

@John C - I've had SLAP repairs on both of my shoulders as well and found the recovery / rehab to not put me back where I was before throwing wise. My days of low '90's fastball are forever gone. I didn't have the nerve block ootion but did use the ice pump and started PT right away with good results. The difference maker for me though was getting PRP injections in the articulating surfaces of the joint and labrum. Nearest thing to voodoo that I've ever experienced. I swear by it. Problem is a lot of insurance won't cover it.

John C. said...

Froggy, that's a good tip about the PRP; hopefully I won't need to use it.

And yes, SM, I broke my arm. While pitching, too (it's rare, but happens: John Smiley; Tony Saunders; Tom Browning).

The fact that I still play (though in a much less competitive league), and am considering pitching, probably merely demonstrates my inability to learn :D

Froggy said...

Harper - To your points about Strasburg and Roark I agree that we definitely need Stras on the mound, and at the same time I feel Roark has been a team player and has earned the opportunity to start if Stras needs to miss start or two. But what about in the near term swapping roles and throwing Roark out there as the starter and having Stras come in as the relief flame thrower? Maybe as the middle innings shutdown guy with no pressure to go more than 2-3 innings?

Is that too crazy a thought?

Fries said...


That's only something the likes of Bochy would attempt. Regardless of the old school vs new school approaches, we also don't really know how Stras would do in relief. Unless I missed it in the minors, he only pitched in relief his freshman year at San Diego State. Some pitchers are able to come out of the pen no problem...Stras strikes me as the kinda guy who needs his routine

karl kolchak said...

Froggy - I've been thinking the same thing. Strasburg is now entering his prime years and is still underperforming compared to his raw talent. But if I were going to use him in relief it would be as a setup man or a closer so he could dial it up knowing he was only going to pitch one inning.

Not saying the Nats SHOULD do this, just that it bears consideration. It sure would be fun to see him throwing at max velocity, even if it were only for three batters at a time.

JQuest said...

Is Stras going to get paid as a #1 when he gets his next contract? I still think he has the potential to take a jump forward in consistency and become a far more valuable pitcher, but between injuries and the failure to maximize his potential it's quite a risk to pay him like a #1.