In sports, injuries are something you have to deal with. Injuries remove talent and depth from the roster. They’re also pretty unpredictable. The only thing for certain is that they’ll weaken your team. The Nationals unfortunately (fortunately?) already know they’ll be losing a talent on their roster at some point this season, but it won’t be because of an injury, or at least not because of one that happened this season. Jordan Zimmermann is probably halfway to his season innings limit, at which point he’ll be shut down, as he continues to come back from Tommy John surgery.
In a season where the Nationals have already played a significant portion of their games without their best position player, they know they’ll have to play a stretch without what has become their best active starting pitcher. Add this to the fact that they’re already playing without their undisputed best pitcher on their team, Stephen Strasburg, and that the Nationals have dealt with their fair share of injuries this season.
It’s believed that Zimmermann will be on about a 150 innings limit this year. He’s currently at 87 and 2/3 innings through 14 starts. This means he’ll only get about a dozen more starts before the Nationals shut him down, and he’ll fall short by about 10 starts of the 35 or so starts you’d typically like to see from a frontline pitcher.
The Nats could go with a few different strategies to get Zimmermann to his limit. Some teams will start to skip a pitcher’s turn in the rotation every so often so he pitches an entire season while staying under his limit. There’s also the option to allow Zimmermann to pitch straight through to his limit and shut him down as the calendar turns to September. In a season where management has been vocal about the fact that they think next year is the year the Nats will start to compete for a playoff spot, the strategy doesn’t matter too much as long as Zimmermann gets through the season injury-free and ready to extend his innings limit next year.
The inevitable roster move will certainly be a hit to the Nationals ability to be competitive this year. Coming off his fifth win of the season, Zimmermann is solidifying his spot as the most talented and dependable starter on the current staff. He’s 14th in the majors in WAR (wins above replacement) for starting pitchers and the only Nationals starter in the top 50 in that category.
As much as losing Zimmermann will hurt for what he brings to the field, it also hurts the Nationals that nobody in the organization has proven that he’ll be able to step into the rotation and provide a badly needed stopgap. After Jason Marquis, Livan Hernandez and John Lannan, who have been great for the Nationals this season, there hasn’t been another pitcher on the team who’s really proven he should be a fifth or emergency starter for the team. Tom Gorzelanny, may need some time to get settled in the rotation after spending time on the DL with a sore elbow. Even then, Gorzelanny has allowed an unsettling number of home runs this season.
Also, Yunesky Maya was unable to gain the team’s confidence in his recent fill-in role for Gorzelanny. The Nationals need Maya or a young unproven pitcher (Brad Peacock, maybe) to step up at the end of the season. Washington has the luxury of knowing when they’ll have to deal with an “injury-type” roster move, but effectively working around it will be another story.