Nationals finalize NLDS rotation, roster

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Nationals finalize NLDS rotation, roster

ST. LOUIS -- The Nationals won a major-league best 98 games this season with a roster and starting rotation that didn't change very much along the way, so they're not going to change much heading into their first-ever postseason series.

Manager Davey Johnson said today his rotation for the National League Division Series against the Cardinals will stand pat. Gio Gonzalez starts Game 1 tomorrow, with Jordan Zimmermann following him on Monday at Busch Stadium. Edwin Jackson will then start Game 3 in Washington on Wednesday, with Ross Detwiler pitching Game 4 on Thursday.

Johnson didn't formally reveal his 25-man roster for the series, but he said there would be no surprises and made it all but clear rookie Christian Garcia would be in the bullpen with John Lannan left off the roster.

In the end, the Nationals felt it best to dance with the guys who got there here in the first place.

"The preparation that you have for a ballclub comes in 162 games in a regular season," Johnson said before his team took the field for a late-afternoon workout. "You really don't do anything different. I don't want to act any different. It's going to be business as usual. We've got no trick plays we're running out there."

In other words, don't expect a surprise appearance by Stephen Strasburg. The right-hander, who was shut down four weeks ago after pitching 159 13 innings for the season, did make the trip with the Nationals and will continue to work out with the club and watch games from the dugout, but he will not be included on the active roster.

The only real decision Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo had to make involved the final spot on the roster. The club could have gone with Lannan, making the lefty a long reliever. It could have kept an extra bench player like rookie Eury Perez or veteran Mark DeRosa.

Ultimately, Johnson and Rizzo decided to go with another power arm, keeping Garcia, the 27-year-old right-hander who in his first 13 big-league appearances posted a 2.13 ERA, 15 strikeouts and only two walks.

"This is what you dream of," said Garcia, who twice had Tommy John surgery and opened this season at Class AA Harrisburg. "When I was rehabbing, the things that helped me get through days when I didn't want to work out was days like this. Being able to pitch in a postseason game, and not just pitch in it, but be somebody in the postseason and make a name for myself."

Rizzo said the pitchers who didn't make the postseason roster -- Lannan, Strasburg, Zach Duke and Chien-Ming Wang -- will remain with the team and continue to stay fresh just in case. Teams are allowed to make roster changes during a series in the event of an injury.

DeRosa, an immensely popular veteran and pseudo-coach at times, also is staying with the club through the postseason. Other position players who didn't make the roster, though, have been sent to Viera, Fla., to keep getting at-bats with the Nationals' fall instructional league team: Perez, catcher Sandy Leon and outfielder Corey Brown.

The decision to start Jackson in Game 3 and Detwiler in Game 4, meanwhile, appeared obvious once the Cardinals -- with a lineup heavy with right-handed hitters -- beat the lefty-loaded Braves in last night's NL Wild Card Game. Johnson had hinted earlier in the week he might consider adding Lannan to the rotation for a series against Atlanta but made it sound today like he planned the Jackson-Detwiler combo all along.

"I kind of like the experience that Edwin Jackson brings," Johnson said of the 28-year-old, who was a member of St. Louis' World Series winning rotation last fall. "So even if it had been Atlanta, I would have probably gone with Jackson."

Johnson, by the way, said he's feeling considerably better after having to depart Wednesday's regular-season finale in the seventh inning after his left leg went numb. Doctors diagnosed the issue originating in his lower vertebrae, and he received a cortisone shot and treatment yesterday. The 69-year-old manager was moving around well today and even played catch with third base coach Bo Porter before the Nationals' workout.

"I feel a heck of a lot better," Johnson said. "I have no pain, just a little stiff back."

Here, then, is what the Nationals' roster for the NLDS will look like...

STARTING PITCHERS (4)
1. LHP Gio Gonzalez
2. RHP Jordan Zimmermann
3. RHP Edwin Jackson
4. LHP Ross Detwiler

RELIEF PITCHERS (8)
1. RHP Drew Storen
2. RHP Tyler Clippard
3. LHP Sean Burnett
4. RHP Craig Stammen
5. RHP Ryan Mattheus
6. LHP Michael Gonzalez
7. LHP Tom Gorzelanny
8. RHP Christian Garcia

STARTING LINEUP (8)
1. RF Jayson Werth
2. CF Bryce Harper
3. 3B Ryan Zimmerman
4. 1B Adam LaRoche
5. LF Michael Morse
6. SS Ian Desmond
7. 2B Danny Espinosa
8. C Kurt Suzuki

BENCH (5)
1. C Jesus Flores
2. IF Steve Lombardozzi
3. IF Chad Tracy
4. OF Roger Bernadina
5. OF Tyler Moore

Nationals starters are throwing more pitches per game this year

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Nationals starters are throwing more pitches per game this year

It's a question I've received numerous times this season on Twitter: are Nationals starters throwing too many pitches this season? The question has been posed so many times that it warrants a closer look. The internet makes all sorts of baseball data available these days and there is plenty out there regarding pitches, both in terms of quality and quantity.

For the Nationals (17-7), it is true that through 24 games this season they are allowing their starters to pitch longer in games than they did last season. But, though their pitch counts are up, there is no evidence to suggest what they are doing is out of the ordinary. 

First, here is a look at how Nationals starters rank by pitches per start:

Max Scherzer - 105.4
Stephen Strasburg - 102
Tanner Roark - 101.4
Joe Ross - 99*
Gio Gonzalez - 98.3

*excluding injury-shortened start on April 20

For Scherzer and Gonzalez, there is not much to see here. Scherzer is second in MLB in pitches thrown, but he's always near the top of the league in that category. He was seventh in total pitches in 2015, third in 2014 and 12th the year before that. 

Scherzer has averaged at least 100 P/GS for each of the last eight seasons. In 2014, his final year in Detroit, Scherzer posted a career-high of 110.2. That's much higher than anyone in the Nats' rotation is currently on track for.

Gonzalez has also logged high pitch counts in the past. He averaged 103.6 P/GS in 2013, his second year with the Nats, and put up a career-high of 106.5 in 2011, his final year in Oakland. Like Scherzer and many other pitchers, he has proven he can take the pounding of a high pitch count.

The rest of the Nats' rotation is up in the P/GS category from their career averages. Strasburg's career average is 92.7 and he's putting up about 10 more per start this season. But his career-high was 96.9 in 2014 and that's not far off from 100.

Roark has never averaged more than 100 before, but did post a career-high of 96.7 in 2014. And Ross has seen a significant increase from the 85.4 P/GS he held last season, but that number was kept in check to limit his workload as a rookie. 

For instance, Ross went six scoreless innings in his final start of 2015, yet was removed after just 77 pitches. His penultimate start saw him throw only 82 pitches despite going seven innings with one run allowed. What he's doing this year is more normal than what he was limited to last season.

The Nationals are letting their starters reach higher pitch counts this season, but not to an extreme degree, at least not yet. Could that change as the season goes on? Sure, teams often allow pitchers to stretch out as the season goes on. For now, though, it doesn't seem to be a real issue in Washington.

Virginia adds quarterback transfer from ECU

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USA TODAY Sports

Virginia adds quarterback transfer from ECU

Virginia has added another quarterback to its roster for next season as Kurt Benkert of East Carolina announced Sunday that he will transter to UVa.

Benkert announced on April 25 that he intended to transfer. The move to Charlottesville will reunite the quarterback with former head coach Ruffin McNeill who now is the defensive line coach for Virginia.

Benkert's bio on ECU's athletcis website lists him as 6-foot-3, 225 pounds and describes him as "A talented and polished signal-caller whose arm strength perhaps already ranks among the best in the history of the Pirate program ." He was named the starter by McNeill at ECU heading into last season, but a knee injury forced Benkert to miss the entire 2015 season.

As a graduate transfer, Benkert will be immediately available for next season. He will also have two years of eligibility remaining.

Benkert will now be thrust into a quarterback competition in Charlottesville with incumbent Matt Johns and fellow transfer Connor Brewer.

RELATED: TWO HOKIES SUSPENDED INDEFINITELY AFTER ARRESTS

Cravens to accept "challenge," wear Sean Taylor's rookie number

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Cravens to accept "challenge," wear Sean Taylor's rookie number

The majority of highlights from Sean Taylor's career, whether he's walloping a helpless receiver or intercepting a pass from a quarterback foolish enough to test him, come from the days when he wore No. 21. However, some may forget that the gifted safety actually donned No. 36 as a rookie back in 2004, before transitioning to his more familiar digits in 2005. 

Nowadays, Taylor's 21 isn't officially retired, but's it's essentially untouchable. So for Redskins players who want to honor the talented defender — Ryan Clark is a recent example of one who did — they have to go about it in creative ways (Clark, for one, sported the famous number in practice).

Well, rookie Su'a Cravens, who was drafted by the franchise in the second round on Friday, is getting creative. On Sunday, the USC standout announced he was going to pay respect to the Burgundy and Gold legend in his own right by taking the field in the same No. 36 that Taylor debuted in. The news came around the time that it was revealed the versatile Cravens would be listed on the roster as a safety, another thing that he shares with the Pro-Bowler he idolizes.

Here are some tweets from the 20-year-old detailing his decision and what it means to him:

Showing love to Taylor is nothing new for the Los Angeles native, though. It was something he did in college as well:

Cravens has certainly wasted no time since getting every prospect's dream phone call in endearing himself to his new team's fans. He's already said that he's "so damn hyped to be a Redskin" and called the passion of Washington's supporters "unreal." But it's his latest choice that will really have people enthused, as understanding and acknowledging Taylor's talents are surefire ways to become a favorite in D.C.

It's clear Cravens knows his uniform selection means a lot to the city he'll be suiting up for. And it's clear he's ready for the expectations that'll come along with it. Sure, he's only been a Redskin for a few days, but Cravens is already making an impression.

MORE REDSKINS: GRADING THE 2016 DRAFT CLASS