The Nationals will have played 35 games in 35 days after their series in San Francisco ends Wednesday, which has left Nationals Manager Davey Johnson little room to manipulate his rotation and change the problem of the consecutive lefties. But the Thursday off day will give Johnson a chance.
“A lot of reasons,” Johnson said. “I started looking at it a week ago, when we had to give Zim an extra day. So I’ll be looking at it again.”
With two straight left-handers in the same series, opposing platoon players have an extra day to find a rhythm. It also affects Johnson’s bullpen. He likes to have Craig Stammen, his right-handed long reliever, available behind Detwiler and Gonzalez, because if they falter early he can face a right-handed heavy lineup. When they pitch back-to-back, it makes it more difficult to have Stammen ready.
Johnson has yet to decide how he’ll change the rotation. But he’ll also consider upcoming opponents. With the Nationals in a pennant race, Johnson wants to line up his starters to maximize matchups with key opponents, like their series against the Braves next week, from Aug. 20 through Aug. 22.
“I’m not going to do anything in the next three days, and that’s all I’m concerned about,” Johnson said. “At this time of year, you even go further out about how you want the pitching to line up coming down that last month.”
While Johnson isn’t sharing his ideas, here is one modest proposal, starting Thursday against the Mets: Detwiler, Edwin Jackson, Jordan Zimmermann, Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg.
Here’s why: After Thursday, bring back Ross Detwiler on normal rest to face the Mets. Follow him with Edwin Jackson, who would have two extra days, and then Jordan Zimmermann to finish out against the Mets, on normal, four-day rest. Zimmermann has been especially good against New York this year – a 1.50 ERA over 18 innings in three starts.
The real payoff would come against the Braves and their left-handed heavy lineup. This year, the Braves are 47-24 against right-handed starters and 19-24 against lefties. This rotation would allow the Nationals to throw Gonzalez, Strasburg and Detwiler against their only competitor in the NL East – two lefties and their ace.
That would give Gonzalez six days of rest, which may not be the worst thing. It remains to be seen what happens in his start tonight, but his last time out he threw the first nine-inning complete game of his career. Most important, it would set up Gonzalez and Detwiler to face Atlanta, and let the Nationals throw some kryptonite at the one team chasing them.