For a rotation that leads the major leagues in earned run average, the Nationals have benefited from fresh and relatively less-used starters. Entering Friday’s games, they ranked smack in the middle of the majors in innings thrown by starters.
But now, late in the season, according to Nationals Manager Davey Johnson, is the time to stretch them out a little bit longer. In fact, recently, he has noted that it’s something he has wanted to do, in part, to lighten some of the workload on the bullpen, which ranks relatively higher in innings worked.
“Now’s the time when you lean on ‘em and give ‘em a little more,” Johnson said. “It’s also the history of what they were used to with pitch counts and stuff coming up from the minor leagues. They’re limited in the minor leagues. I think we have 90 to 100 [pitches], we’d had that. I think [Jordan Zimmermann] came up under those rules. So they get accustomed to being hooked after so many pitches.”
Entering August, Gio Gonzalez had yet to pitch into the eighth inning this season. And with Friday’s complete game shutout, the first of his career, he has now pitched that deep into a game three times. Even with Gonzalez’s two complete games this month, the Nationals have only three of them on the season, below league average.
Of the Nationals five starters, two are averaging more innings per start in the second half than in the first. Excluding his time in bullpen earlier in the season, Ross Detwiler has been built up and is averaging 6 innings per start compared to 5.4 innings in the first half. Gonzalez is averaging 6.6 innings per start in the second half versus the 5.9 innings in the first half. Edwin Jackson and Stephen Strasburg splits are similar, off by only an inning.
But Jackson also seems like a prime candidate to pitch deeper into games at this point. At 28, he is a veteran starter with pennant race and playoff experience, and had perhaps the most durable arm on the staff. He throws the most pitches and innings per start of any other starter on the staff. And, he threw a dazzling eight innings on Thursday.
Zimmermann is second on the staff with 161 innings but given his recent shoulder stiffness Johnson has been more cautious to limit his work. And with Strasburg being shutdown soon, the Nationals will lean on Detwiler, Gonzalez, Jackson and call-up starter John Lannan to pitch longer into games deep in a pennant race.