The Nationals dropped their fourth game in the past six tries, but Monday’s defeat carried larger implications. Following their 3-2 loss to the Braves, the Nationals dropped an entire game in the standings to 13 1/2 games behind the NL East division leaders. The Nationals continue to have a myriad of issues: a woefully underproductive offense, pitching miscues magnified with little margin for error, a lack of execution in big spots and, simply, the absence of crisp baseball from beginning to end.
Another weakness could be exposed in the next few weeks: the lack of proven starting pitching depth. Rookie right-hander Taylor Jordan, who has posted a 3.76 ERA and pitched well in place of injured Ross Detwiler, said he has about four more starts left before he is shut down in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. But his likely replacement in the rotation, Ross Ohlendorf, who has been stellar with a 1.85 ERA, landed on the disabled list over the weekend with right shoulder inflammation. The soonest Ohlendorf could return is Aug. 16.
If Ohlendorf is ready to come off the disabled list then or close to it, he could still replace Jordan in the rotation. Jordan’s next start is Aug. 10 and the following one on Aug. 16. Asked who the team would turn to given Ohlendorf’s injury, General Manager Mike Rizzo suggested the team would stay in-house. ”We certainly feel that we’ve got capable replacements within the organization,” he said.
If Ohlendorf isn’t ready to return and Jordan meets his innings limit sooner than expected because of longer starts, the Nationals could turn to the minor leagues. Manager Davey Johnson suggested the player was someone who spent big league spring training with the Nationals, and offered not further hint That could include Nate Karns and Tanner Roark. (Or, perhaps, even Craig Stammen making a spot start but he’s too valuable to the bullpen.)
Karns, 25, was called up straight from Class AA Harrisburg in late May to make three major league starts. He had potential but was raw, posting a 7.50 ERA over 12 innings. Back at Harrisburg, the right-handed starter has a 2.79 ERA over his past 10 starts and struck out 75 batters while walking 23 in that 61 1/3-inning span. Karns, who has a 3.41 ERA overall over 100 1/3 innings, is also already on the 40-man roster and would be an easy move.
Or, there’s even Roark, a right-handed starter at Class AAA Syracuse. Roark started off the season slow but later found a groove. The 26-year-old has a 2.05 ERA and 6-0 record over the past 10 starts and has walked only four batters over 52 2/3 innings. A 40-man roster spot would have to be cleared for Roark, who has a 3.15 ERA on the season and a 105 2/3 innings and only 11 starts.. According to Syracuse pitching coach Greg Booker, Roark throws a mid-90s-mph fastball, averaging 93 mph. He also throws a hard curveball and a standout change-up.
“He’s thrown extremely well and he’s kind of a hybrid between a long reliever and starting pitcher so he brings some versatility to the organization and another quality arm,” Rizzo said.
The Nationals will have more clarity in the coming days about the state of the back end of their rotation. Once-struggling Dan Haren has pitched well since in his five starts since returning from the disabled list, posting a 2.40 ERA. The Nationals’ pitching depth has been exposed: an injured Chris Young, underwhelming Yunesky Maya and spot fill-in Zach Duke. With Jordan’s season soon to end and Ohlendorf resting his arm, the Nationals have another spot of their roster in flux. In the worst case scenario, they could be relying on another rookie to start in the final weeks of a potential playoff push.
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FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Carolina 5, Potomac 3: Paul Demny struck out eight but walked three and allowed four runs, two earned, on two hits over three innings. Brian Dupra struck out six over three scoreless innings. Michael Taylor went 2 for 4 and hit his ninth homer. Caleb Ramsey finished 3 for 5.
Hagerstown 8, Lakewood 4: Pedro Encarnacion allowed four runs on five hits and struck out six over five innings. Bryan Harper tossed two scoreless innings. Christian Meza tossed 1 1/3 scoreless and Gilberto Mendez completed the inning for his seventh save. Mike McQuillan, Estarlin Martinez and Pedro Severino each drove in two runs.