This is next year. And until this balmy blue afternoon, March had been one string of headaches. Actually, strained lats and hamstrings, bruised feet and elbow inflammations to Michael Morse, Chien-Ming Wang, Adam LaRoche and Drew Storen, all of whom will probably miss the first week of the season, except tape-it-up-and-go LaRoche. A month from now, all will likely be fine, but until them, it’s chaotic.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. No killer injuries, fortunately. But this late in spring training we’re talking about ‘Who’s going to play’ left field, first base, center field, closer and a [fifth] starter,” Johnson said.
Right now, the manager will platoon LaRoche at first base with Mark DeRosa early in the season to ease LaRoche’s return from shoulder surgery as well as his current sore foot. “Aw, I don’t want that,” LaRoche told him. “Well, it’s out of your hands,” Johnson said.
The Nats may also be forced to start the year with platoons of Bernadina and Jason Michaels in left, Rick Ankiel and Brett Carroll in center and a closer-by committee of Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez. The alternative: risk serious re-injury to Morse, Storen or Wang. “On opening day, your numbers get reset,” said Werth, “but your health doesn’t.”
As for the heart of the team, the starting rotation of Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and John Lannan has allowed 97 hits, 53 runs, 10 homers and 29 walks in 751
3 innings. So, they’re getting hit often and far, but their control is bad, too.
Partly, this is old-school Johnson who says, “I’m not giving ’em any help. They’re going to throw 80 pitches. . . . You’ve got to get your work in, period, end of conversation.” If it’s not your day, you get crushed. So, Jackson gave up 10 runs in a start and Gonzalez eight, inflating their stats. “Our starters have gotten beat up more than they like or I like,” Johnson said.
Strasburg’s been the best, but not brilliant. His arm is sound, but his command of all his pitches — his key to dominance — has been sharp one inning, erratic the next. His elbow is strong enough that the pre-surgery sharpness on his breaking pitches is back. But Strasburg is still a young pitcher: With a 10-run lead against a weak lineup he didn’t breeze.
None of it matters. But none of it is good. In March, both can be true.
That’s why you have a pregame chat with vets. “That’s more like it,” Johnson said. “To a man, we were tired of getting whooped up on big time.”
If things work right — a homer, double, double, tape-measure homer start — then, for a day at least, you get to rewrite the narrative. “We have something to prove,” said Desmond, “but we don’t need to prove it now.”
Maybe not, but soon, very soon.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.