Chein-Ming Wang will start Sunday for Class AAA Syracuse, and if he stays healthy and all goes to plan, Wang will make his next appearance in the majors. Wang has to join the Nationals or return to the disabled list by Wednesday, which means one member of the Nationals rotation will find himself on the outside looking in.
That’s why Tom Gorzelanny’s performance in last night’s 7-6 loss to the Dodgers cast at least a small measure of doubt about his place in the Nationals’ rotation for the immediate future. Gorzleanny allowed five runs on eight hits in just three innings, leaving many of his 66 pitches over the plate and higher than he hoped. He had no command of his fastball, he said, and without that nothing else worked.
The Nationals are still considering how they’ll work Wang into their pitching staff. “I’m not really thinking about that right now,” Manager Davey Johnson said late Saturday night. But surely one possibility includes Gorzelanny joining the Nationals’ bullpen or taking time off to heal some kind of heretofore undisclosed injury.
Gorzelanny started six days after he sprained his right ankle in Atlanta. He emphatically said his right ankle had nothing to with his struggles. Pitching coach Steve McCatty agreed, saying Gorzelanny looked fine in the bullpen before the game.
“Just awful pitching,” Gorzelanny said. “It’s that simple.”
Said Johnson: “I think he was fighting himself out there. He didn’t complain about his ankle, but obviously something was bothering him. He was getting behind, not making good pitches, getting hit pretty good.”
Gorzelanny has had some excellent moments in his first season with the Nationals. In April and May, he allowed two earned runs or less in five consecutive starts. But his poor outing last night was not an isolated episode. It raised his ERA on the season to 4.46. Before he left his start last weekend with the ankle injury, Gorzelanny had allowed two runs in two innings on a hit and three walks.
By no means is Gorzelanny a lost cause. He was excellent against the White Sox in his second start back from the disabled list at the end of June, allowing one run in seven innings and throwing 112 pitches the day after an extra-inning win abused the Nationals bullpen. In his next start, Gorzelanny fired seven shutout innings against the Pirates.
Since then, though, it’s been a struggle. He gave up two homers to the Cubs, hurt his ankle and authored last night’s disaster. Gorzelanny has at times given the Nationals a solid fifth starter, and his high ERA may be in part a function of hard luck – he has struck out 75 and walked 27 in 82 2/3 innings, a ratio that typically portends success. But he’s scuffling now, and he because of the timing he could find himself as the odd man out.