Oct 3, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
The Nationals are transitioning into offseason mode, and so are we. Over these first five days, we’ll run through the five biggest storylines of the winter for this club, continuing today with the No. 3 storyline: Whether to acquire a No. 5 starter or fill the position from within the system…
The Nationals entered each of the last two offseasons with an obvious need for a veteran starter to help fill out their rotation. They wound up spending a total of $24 million on Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren, for which they received a total of 20 wins, 25 losses and a 4.34 ERA over 61 starts and 358 2/3 innings.
Now the Nats find themselves in a similar predicament entering this winter, needing at least one more starter to fill out their rotation. The difference this time around: They may actually have viable candidates from within to hold the job and don’t feel forced to spend money on acquiring another arm.
Thanks to the emergence of young right-hander Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan — plus the expected arrival of another wave of young pitchers including right-handers A.J. Cole, Taylor Hill and Nate Karns along with lefties Sammy Solis, Robbie Ray and Matt Purke — the Nationals believe they have solved the pitching depth problem that plagued them the last two seasons.
Combine that with the return of the top trio of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez and the anticipated return of Ross Detwiler from an injury-plagued 2013, and the Nationals don’t particularly feel the need to add another starter this winter.
“We certainly go four deep with a healthy Detwiler,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “With the depth that we have in our young starting pitching, we could certainly fill from within. I don’t think it’s a necessity to go outside the organization, either in the free-agent market or in the trade market. But we’re certainly not going to back away from looking at the free-agent and the trade market to improve the club.”
Which isn’t to say the Nationals don’t face several pitching question marks entering 2014.
As much as they want to believe Detwiler will be fine after battling a lingering back strain this season, the Nationals can’t be 100 percent confident he’ll return to peak form. The 27-year-old made only 13 starts this year, posting a 4.04 ERA, surrendering a career-worst 11.6 hits per nine innings and requiring multiple DL stints.
The good news: Detwiler experienced no back issues during his September rehab and finished out the season pitching every five days in the Florida instructional league. The bad news: The Nationals don’t know if that’s enough evidence to suggest he has completely healed, or whether he still needs to throw more innings this winter to prove it.
“We need to see if this injury is going to resurface,” Davey Johnson said in late-September. “As many starts as he can get, appearances, is I think important. He needs to be reliable next year.”
If Detwiler is fine, the Nationals will feel good entering the season with the left-hander as their No. 4 starter and one of their young arms as the No. 5 hurler, most likely Roark or Jordan.
Each rookie impressed in limited time this season. Jordan burst onto the scene after opening the year at Class A Potomac and wound up posting a 3.66 ERA in nine big-league starts before he was shut down with his total innings count at 142 one year following Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Roark, meanwhile, debuted for the Nationals as a long reliever in August, then forced his way into the rotation and finished a stunning 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA in 14 appearances (five starts), convincing his then-manager he deserves a spot in the 2014 rotation.
“Every time he’s gone out there, I’ve liked his work,” Johnson said. “He makes his pitches. He’s unfazed. If we boot a ball behind him, he goes right after them. He’s got a heck of a shot next year of making this club.”
If, by some chance, Rizzo decides he needs more of a sure thing, there are several options on the free-agent market. None, though, will come cheap.
Among the soon-to-be-available names: Matt Garza, A.J. Burnett, Ricky Nolasco, Ervin Santana and Tim Lincecum.
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