The Washington Nationals are headed to Chicago on Thursday to start what could be a promising 2012 season. However, some key injuries may leave the team a bit more crippled than fans would hope, causing an already concerning offense to be a little bit worse. The overall positive on this year’s Nats team is the pitching staff, so we’ll start there with Part 1.
Stephen Strasburg – The day Nationals fans had hoped for is finally here. Their ace is starting on Opening Day, and it’s just a benefit that it’s at iconic Wrigley Field against a struggling Cubs franchise. Despite his innings limit, Strasburg’s presence in the lineup every fifth day is going to be huge.
Gio Gonzalez – The lefty power guy will be the Nationals 1a pitcher, and he lines up to pitch Opening Day at Nationals Park on April 12th. His presence in the rotation will be huge for a team building young pitching, especially since the Nats gave up so much young pitching to get him. If he has a year similar to 2011, the Nats will be thrilled.
Jordan Zimmermann – JZimm is in the three spot in the rotation, but don’t sleep on him. I expect him to have a breakout season in his first full year back from Tommy John injury without an innings limit. He showed instances of being elite last year, and I think his few weaknesses from last year will dissipate this year. He will be one of the best No. 3s in the game.
Edwin Jackson – Jackson got paid a lot of money for a one-year deal with the Nats this year, and he has played on six different teams in his nine-year career. But when he’s good, he’s really good, and he can really eat innings. His career average 1.476 WHIP is certainly concerning, and hopefully Steve McCatty can work magic on Jackson like he has with many other Nats pitchers.
Ross Detwiler – In the first true surprise this offseason, John Lannan was optioned down to Syracuse in favor of Ross Detwiler, who has been extremely impressive this spring and at the end of last year. This is the opportunity the Nationals first draft pick of 2007 has been waiting for, and here’s hoping he doesn’t disappoint. By having Detwiler in this spot instead of Lannan, the Nationals have an entire rotation of power pitchers, which is starkly different than previous years.
Tom Gorzelanny – Despite being a terrible pitcher this spring and showing nothing remarkable last season, Gorzelanny and his $3 million made the bullpen this year. He will likely be a long reliever most of the time, but it’s possible that he could get some LOOGY opportunities from time to time.
Craig Stammen – I’ve been beating this drum for a while now, and I’m excited that Stammen will finally get the opportunity to show what he’s made of for at least a few weeks while Drew Storen rests his elbow soreness. It’s possible that when Storen returns, Stammen will be the first to go, but only time will tell there.
Ryan Mattheus – Mattheus had an average 2011 and has been good this spring, which is good enough to earn a middle relief spot with the Nats. Mattheus throws for power, but still makes some mental gaffes on the mound. Look for him to play the Todd Coffey role for the Nats this year, doing some mop up duty as well.
Sean Burnett – The lefty specialist that once couldn’t retire lefties is back, but he looks like the Burnett of old. He will play a vital role for the Nats if they want to keep Gorzelanny out of situations like facing Ryan Howard when he comes back.
Henry Rodriguez – Rodriguez has had a transformational experience in the last seven months. Ever since September last year, his control has been unbelievable. Since his control is the one thing that was keeping him from being elite, his 100 MPH fastball could create a big splash in the NL East this time around.
Tyler Clippard – Clippard is one of the best setup men in the National League, and I don’t expect that to stop. Will he have a 1.83 ERA with a ridiculous 0.838 WHIP again? Probably not. Is he capable of putting together lots of scoreless innings with his jerky windup, deceptively fast fastball, and devastating changeup? Absolutely. He’ll help shut down lots of innings for the team’s elite rotation this year.
Brad Lidge – The Phillies gave up on Lidge, and the Nats quickly swooped in and paid him $1 million for a one-year deal. That could pay dividends now that Drew Storen is on the DL to start the season Lidge is supposed to split closer’s duties with Rodriguez, but I have a hunch Lidge, a proven closer, will get most of the chances here. He could be a major piece to determine if the Nats make it through April successfully.
Evaluating the position players will come your way in Part 2.