Mar 11, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
If the Nationals hold any edge over the Braves entering the season, it’s most likely the dominant starting rotation they intend to send to the mound every night for 162 games. Not much distinguishes these talented ballclubs from each other, but the Nats clearly entered the spring with a more fearsome starting five than Atlanta did.
And the difference between the two rivals may be growing wider as we speak.
It’s been a rough couple of days for the Braves, who on back-to-back days saw Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy prematurely depart Grapefruit League outings due to arm injuries.
Medlen, who already has had Tommy John surgery in his career, clutched his right elbow after delivering a pitch in Port St. Lucie on Sunday. Team doctors initially referred to his injury as “forearm tightness,” but the entire organization and its fan base are still holding their collective breaths awaiting word of yesterday’s MRI on the pitcher.
Making matters even worse, Beachy was pulled early from his start yesterday in Clearwater, with his velocity down and his right arm barking. This is another pitcher trying to make a complete return from Tommy John surgery, and while Beachy insisted he’s not terribly concerned about this development, it’s impossible not to at least consider the worst-case scenario for him.
Throw in Mike Minor’s slow return this spring and just like that, a Braves club that won 96 games last season and fully expects to defend its division title finds itself facing the very real possibility of opening 2014 with a rotation of Julio Teheran, Freddy Garcia, Alex Wood, David Hale and … uh … somebody else with a useable right or left arm.
The Nationals, of course, are dealing with their own pitching injury at the moment, with Doug Fister at least temporarily sidelined due to elbow inflammation. The right-hander is expected to play catch today for the first time in a week, and if all goes well, he could be back pitching in a game by week’s end.
But even if Fister’s injury proves more serious than initially believed, the Nationals appear much better-suited to deal with this than their NL East rivals.
They already had three capable pitchers competing for the fifth spot in the rotation: Ross Detwiler, Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan. They also have veteran Ross Ohlendorf, who pitched well at times last season in emergency duty (though he’s currently dealing with a minor back injury).
Would a long-term Fister DL stint be damaging to the Nationals? Sure, but they would still feel fairly confident proceeding with a rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Detwiler and either Roark or Jordan.
Compare that to the potential disaster the Braves now face, and it’s easy to understand why other teams would love to have the Nationals’ rotation. It’s a rotation that boasts both dominant arms at the top and quality depth at the bottom.
Tough to ask for more than that.
NL EAST STANDINGS
WED: Nats at Marlins, 12:40 p.m.
THU: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
FRI: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SAT: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SUN: Phillies at Nats, 1:35 p.m.
MON: Orioles at Nats, 7:05 p.m. TUE: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
Full season schedule
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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