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Odd Man Out?

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The Nationals pitching rotation has been on fire. A collection of young guns, they’ve evolved together from a couple of talented arms who were expected to spend the majority of the season between Harrisburg and Syracuse, into a developing Major League rotation that is finally coming into it’s own.

It appears however, that Scott Olsen (remember him?) will be making his return within the next two weeks. The Nationals seem to intend to insert him back into the starting rotation after a rehab start in Triple-A.

It doesn’t matter that Scott Olsen was not only one of the worst pitchers for the Nationals in his short 2009 performance, but the MLB. What matters is that the Nationals are paying him $2.8 million dollars this year.

Sadly for one of the young guns it’s a numbers game. The numbers that say their contracts are less valuable than Olsen’s, and the numbers that say you can’t have six starting pitchers.

One of the young guns has to go.

This is a pretty tough break for a group of guys, all under the age of 26, who in the last two weeks have been pitching like veterans. Regardless a tough baseball decision will have to be made by a collection of men (the Nats front office) who tend to mess these things up. 

Assuming John Lannan is safe, lets take a look:

Shairon Martis
Age: 22
Line: 5-1, 4.76 ERA, 29/34 K/BB
Last Three: 5 IP 1 ER 1/4,
    7 IP, 2 ER, 1/2,     6 IP 1 ER 1/5.

Shairon Martis is the reincarnation of Livan Hernandez, just without the youthful talent. He lives on the corners as he pounds the strike zone with a variety of fastballs and will occasionally throw in a change. Scouts don’t seem to understand how he is successful, but he keeps batters off balance and quite simply gets it done. He hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in his last three starts, he pitches late into games, and he wins games. Most don’t believe he can get much better, so a stint in Triple-A would be pointless for him, he should be safe.

Craig Stammen
Age: 25
Line: 1-2, 4.76 ERA, 15/9 K/BB
Last Three: 5 IP 5 ER 2/2,
   5.1 2ER 5/3,   6.1 IP 0ER  2/0

Stammen is the newest to the club and is also the elder-statesman of the rotation. Reaching the big leagues at age 25 isn’t bad, but it usually means that the pitcher needs to be as developed as possible. All of Stammen’s six starts have been solid rookie starts, allowing more than four earned runs only once. His most recent start however has Nationals fans excited as he pitched six and one third scoreless innings against one of the best line ups in baseball, and in a stadium that has yet to see a shut out. With his age, and the excitement of his last start, he may have saved himself some time in the show.
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Jordan Zimmermann
Age: 23
Line: 2-3, 5.03 ERA, 63/19 K/BB
Last Three: 6 IP 2ER 7/0,
   5IP 1ER 6/2,   5.2 IP 1ER 3/3.

Zimmermann came into 2009 as the franchise’s number one prospect. He was expected to start the season in Syracuse and get some Triple-A experience before making a midseason appearance for the Nats. He didn’t want to wait. Zimmermann dominated spring training, and earned a spot in the majors. While is ERA is high, he has not looked overmatched at all in the big leagues. He has 63 stikeouts in 62 innings pitched and has showed solid control, only tossing 19 walks. Where he has found trouble however is avoiding the big innings (which of course can be stopped by better fielding too). He tends to have very solid starts that are littered by three or four run innings. This likely can’t be helped in Triple-A and it will just take a little bit of time before he is a dominant force on the mound.

Ross Detwiler
Age: 23
Line: 0-3, 5.23 ERA, 23/14 K/BB
Last Three: 5.2IP 4ER 5/1,
  6IP 3 ER 6/3,   6IP 4ER 0/5

Nobody expected Ross Detwiler to be here. The hurling lefty has had confidence problems, mechanics problems, and just about every problem you could think of. The Nats first pick in the 2007 draft decided to go back to his old delivery style that he used at Missouri State, as opposed to the one that the Nationals pitching coaches tried to teach him. It worked as Detwiler immediately turned his season around and began to dominate Double-A. Within weeks he had bypassed Syracuse and found himself in Washington. When you watch Detwiler pitch it is clear he has the best stuff out of the four pitchers on this list, and at times looks unhittable. It is also clear he is the least polished and sometimes loses his confidence on the mound for an inning or two.

Conclusion:

Martis and Zimmermann are safe. It makes no sense for the Nationals to send them down to Triple-A, there is not much they can learn there.

Stammen may seem like the obvious choice, as he is less established and less of a prospect than the other three. He has had less great starts than the other three, and he has less stuff than Zimmermann or Detwiler. The problem is he’s 25 years old. How much can he really gain from going to Triple-A? He needs to learn now in a Major League setting, and maybe down the line he can be a 10-15 game winner consistently.

This leaves the most talented of the group as the odd man out. It is likely that Detwiler is pitching for his life tonight, if he isn’t stellar, expect him to get the demotion. To be fair, it’s the right thing to do. He needs the most development out of all four of the pitchers. Most importantly for Detwiler however, his stay in the Majors has now given him the confidence that he can consistently get Major League batters out. He can take that confidence to Detwiler and just take the time to learn, prepare, and get ready to come back to the show for some more down the line.

The future is bright.

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