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Nats rotation will be stacked again

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Nats rotation will be stacked again

As we transition into offseason mode, we'll start by breaking down the Nationals' roster by position (infield, outfield, catcher, rotation and bullpen) this week and examine where things stand at season's end and where things might stand moving forward. Today's position: The starting rotation...

RHP STEPHEN STRASBURG
Stats: 15-6, 3.16 ERA, 159.1 IP, 1.155 WHIP, 11.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9
4.3 WAR
2012 salary: $3 million
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2014, free agent in 2017
Where he fits in: Right at the top of the rotation. And straight through September (and into October, should the Nationals get that far). The Shutdown will be a huge topic of discussion all spring, but once the season gets underway, Strasburg will be free to pitch every fifth day with no restrictions (aside from running up pitch counts only Livan Hernandez is allowed to reach). One more year removed from his Tommy John surgery, the right-hander figures to be more consistent from start to start and should feel like he's still got plenty left in the tank late in the year, much as Jordan Zimmermann did this year.

LHP GIO GONZALEZ
Stats: 21-8, 2.89 ERA, 199.1 IP, 1.129 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 3.4 BB/9
5.4 WAR
2012 salary: $3.25 million
Contract status: $6.25 million in 2013, $8.5 million in 2014, $11 million in 2015, $12 million in 2016, $12 million club option in 2017, $12 million player option in 2018 (guaranteed with 180 IP in 2017)
Where he fits in: Though he led the majors in wins in 2012, Gonzalez will almost certainly play second fiddle to Strasburg in 2013. That's the role the Nationals intended all along for the left-hander, who while brilliant at times is still prone to the occasional hiccup (as we saw in the postseason). Another year wiser and more comfortable against National League lineups, Gonzalez should continue to develop as a front-line starter and give the Nats as good of a 1-2 punch as there is in baseball right now.

RHP JORDAN ZIMMERMANN
Stats: 12-8, 2.94 ERA, 195.2 IP, 1.170 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 2.0 BB/9
3.5 WAR
2012 salary: $2.3 million
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2016
Where he fits in: Actually, make that as good of a 1-2-3 punch as there is in baseball right now, because Zimmermann deserves to be lumped in with Strasburg and Gonzalez as front-line starters. The right-hander took another big step forward this season, throwing more innings than he ever has and showing he still had enough left in the tank to dial his fastball up to 97 mph during his surprise relief appearance in Game 4 of the NLDS. Though they still control his rights for three more years, the Nationals are going to seriously consider locking up Zimmermann to a long-term deal this winter. They've already got Strasburg and Gonzalez for at least four more years; they'd love to ensure they've got Zimmermann at least that long as well.

LHP ROSS DETWILER
Stats: 10-8, 3.40 ERA, 164.1 IP, 1.223 WHIP, 5.8 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
1.8 WAR
2012 salary: $485,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2016
Where he fits in: Perhaps the most pleasant development from the entire Nationals pitching staff this season was Detwiler's long-awaited emergence after years of teasing everyone with his potential. The left-hander proved he can get through big-league lineups three times with success, proved his arm could hold up over the long haul and proved he could thrive under pressure (witness Game 4 of the NLDS). In the process, he locked up the fourth starter's job for next year and several years to come, though his price is going to go up now that he's reached arbitration eligibility.

RHP EDWIN JACKSON
Stats: 10-11, 4.03 ERA, 189.2 IP, 1.218 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
2.7 WAR
2012 salary: $11 million
Contract status: Free agent
Where he fits in: Signed to provide veteran influence, eat up innings and help fill the void when Strasburg was shut down, Jackson was brilliant times, downright ugly at others. He'd love to return in 2013, but the Nationals appear ready to look elsewhere, leaving the enigmatic right-hander to hope another club offers him the long-term deal he couldn't procure last winter.

LHP JOHN LANNAN
Stats: 4-1, 4.13 ERA, 32.2 IP, 1.439 WHIP, 4.7 K/9, 3.9 BB/9
0.5 WAR
2012 salary: $5 million
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2014
Where he fits in: After a bizarre season, most of it spent at Class AAA Syracuse waiting just in case the Nationals needed his services, Lannan is going to once again find himself in an uncomfortable position this winter. He's still under the Nationals' control for another year, but they don't appear committed to giving him the fifth starter's job. And because he's now out of options, he can't be stashed away in the minors again. Mike Rizzo will hope Lannan's strong performance when called upon late this season prompts some trade interest. But the more plausible scenario would have the Nationals electing not to tender the lefty a contract before the Nov. 30 deadline, making him a free agent.

RHP CHIEN-MING WANG
Stats: 2-3, 6.68 ERA, 32.1 IP, 2.010 WHIP, 4.2 K/9, 4.2 BB/9
-0.4 WAR
2012 salary: $4 million
Contract status: Free agent
Where he fits in: The Nationals invested three years and $8 million in this reclamation project, hoping he could make it all the way back from a major shoulder injury and recapture his 19-win form from 2006-07. In the end, Wang made more rehab starts in the minor leagues (21) than starts in the big leagues (15). They won't feel the need to take another chance on him next year.

IN THE MINORS
Last December's trade for Gonzalez stripped the Nationals of some upper-level pitching depth -- Yunesky Maya (remember him?) and Zach Duke were their best Class AAA starters -- but there is another wave of power arms creeping up the organizational ladder. Unfortunately, several of them have been sidetracked by injuries, including left-handers Matt Purke (shoulder) and Sammy Solis (elbow) and 2012 first-round draft pick Lucas Giolito (elbow). The best of the healthy bunch is Alex Meyer, a tall right-hander selected in 2011 with one of the compensation picks the Nats received for losing Adam Dunn to free agency. Meyer went a combine 10-6 with a 2.86 ERA at low-Class A Hagerstown and high-Class A Potomac. He'll probably start 2013 at Class AA Harrisburg and could theoretically be in the big leagues by September. One of the most successful starters in the system early this season was Danny Rosenbaum, though the lefty faded significantly during the second half at Harrisburg. One interesting name to keep an eye on: Ryan Perry, who appeared out of the bullpen in D.C. during the season but was sent to Class AA to convert into a starter and wound up posting a 2.84 ERA in 13 games. Another bright spot was right-hander Nate Karns, who returned from a torn labrum to go 11-4 with a 2.17 ERA at Hagerstown and Potomac and was named organizational pitcher of the year.

OFFSEASON NEED?
Though it remains the backbone of this team and its biggest strength, the Nationals rotation still needs a boost during the offseason. With Jackson likely headed elsewhere, Rizzo will look to add another veteran arm to the mix, perhaps offering a multi-year deal for the right pitcher. That yet-to-be-determined No. 5 starter will take up the back end of what should by all rights be the majors' best rotation in 2013, with an unfettered Strasburg leading the charge.

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Papelbon's job now a real question, Nats glad to have Zim & Solis back

Papelbon's job now a real question, Nats glad to have Zim & Solis back

Leftover notes and observations from the Nats' 4-2 win over the San Francisco Giants on Thursday night...

Papelbon pulled: Jonathan Papelbon has been causing trouble for the Nationals in the ninth inning lately, having gone back to his shaky ways of pitching to hard contact with a fastball that tops out at 89-90 miles per hour. Many fans have not felt confident this year in Papelbon's ability to do his job as closer. Now we know the Nationals feel the same.

Manager Dusty Baker pulled Papelbon after the 35-year-old veteran faced just three batters on Thursday night. He got Brandon Crawford to fly out, then gave up a single to Brandon Belt and a walk to Mac Williamson. By the end of his first at-bat, Baker had Oliver Perez warming.

Papelbon was ultimately charged with one earned run as Perez allowed Belt to score on an infield grounder. That gave Papelbon his third straight appearance with at least one earned run allowed, with seven of them total during that stretch.

His troubles go beyond the numbers, though. First place teams who have their closer's back simply do not take him out that early in such a big spot in such an important game. If any more indication was needed the Nationals could use an upgrade at that position by Monday's non-waiver trade deadline, there it was. Now, the question is how the Nats can bring in a new closer. Will they give up the farm for an Andrew Miller, or hope for the same results with a Alex Colome or Jeremy Jeffress, who would conceivably be cheaper? Either way, they should do something, or else it could cost them a lot down the road. They know it, we know it, everyone knows it.

Zimmerman gets two hits: In his third game back from the disabled list, Ryan Zimmerman had a solid outing with a single, a double and a run. That followed Wednesday's game in Cleveland where he had a single, two runs and a steal. Zimmerman is now 6-for-20 (.300) with five runs, a double and a homer in his last five games, though those are split by his stint on the DL.

Espinosa drives in a run: Hits have been few and far between for Espinosa, who has fallen off a bit in July after his exceptional month of June. But the Nats shortstop did get a big one on Thursday night with his RBI single with two outs in the top of the second inning. Espinosa now has just three hits in his last 10 games across 38 at-bats with 17 strikeouts. He has a .318 OPS during that stretch. Maybe Thursday was a sign he is about to get going again.

Solis shines again: Sammy Solis continued to look strong in his second appearance since returning from the disabled list on Tuesday. he tossed a scoreless eighth inning after working around a leadoff walk. Solis has now pitched 1 2/3 innings with no runs and three strikeouts since coming back. Beyond going after closers, the Nats have also been linked to left-handed relievers, guys like Zach Duke and Boone Logan. With Solis back pitching well, though, it's not a major need.

[RELATED: Roark and Turner lead the way as Nats top Giants]

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Nats pull Papelbon in 9th vs. Giants: 'The object is to win the game'

Nats pull Papelbon in 9th vs. Giants: 'The object is to win the game'

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- With his team chasing the Chicago Cubs for the best record in baseball, Washington manager Dusty Baker is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the Nationals close -- even if it means pulling closer Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning.

While it might not be the move he cherishes, it's one Baker may make even more down the stretch as Papelbon struggles through one of his roughest stretches of the season.

Ryan Zimmerman had two hits and scored a run, Trea Turner added two hits and an RBI and the Nationals beat the San Francisco Giants 4-2 on Thursday night in the opener of a key four-game series between division leaders.

Papelbon went into the game with 19 saves and retired one batter in the ninth before getting pulled in favor of Shawn Kelley after giving up a single and walk.

"I'm sure he felt badly but I had to do what I had to do to win the ballgame," Baker said of his closer. "I'm sure that Pap didn't like it but I'm sure that he understands."

Papelbon has struggled over the past week. He took the loss Sunday against San Diego and again on Tuesday in Cleveland before being unable to close out the win in San Francisco.

"The object is to win the game," Papelbon said. "Do what you can do to win the game."

[RELATED: Roark and Turner lead the way as Nats top Giants]

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Roark and Turner lead the way as Nats hold on to top Giants

Roark and Turner lead the way as Nats hold on to top Giants

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 4-2 win over the San Francisco Giants on Thursday night at AT&T Park.

How it happened: This Trea Turner and Bryce Harper combination at the top of the Nationals' lineup has potential.

Turner has been doing his part for over a week now, continuing to look like a player who can lead the Nats to new heights with his production from the leadoff spot. And on Thursday night in San Francisco, Harper followed the rookie's lead with a strong effort hitting behind him.

Turner went 2-for-4 with a walk, a run and a steal. After going hitless in his previous five games, Harper smoked an RBI double to score Turner from first in the top of the sixth. As Turner rounded third and charged home, his helmet flew off behind his head, a subtle ode to the man who drove him in.

Turner had one of three straight two-out RBI singles hit by the Nats in the top of the second inning alone. Danny Espinosa got the first to score Wilson Ramos. Tanner Roark then landed the second to score Ryan Zimmerman before Turner brought home Espinosa.

That sequence was the worst moment for Johnny Cueto, who lasted a season-low five innings. Roark, on the other hand, was surgical through seven innings of one-run ball. 

The Nats pitching staff hummed like a well-oiled machine until the bottom of the ninth inning when Jonathan Papelbon took over. He faced one batter - Brandon Crawford - who flew out - before manager Dusty Baker got Oliver Perez warming in his bullpen. Papelbon would stay in to allow two baserunners before getting the hook. That simply does not happen if he had not given up six earned runs in his previous two outings. Clearly the Nats do not have confidence in their closer at the moment.

Perez replaced Papelbon, but didn't finish the inning. He loaded the bases by walking Trevor Brown, then allowed a run on a Gregor Blanco infield grounder that was charged to Papelbon. Blanco hit a laser to Anthony Rendon, who bobbled it before throwing it to second, where Espinosa also bobbled it to botch the forceout.

After Perez, it was Shawn Kelley who came in and shut it down with a strikeout of Angel Pagan with the bases loaded. Papelbon, by the way, has now been tagged with earned runs in three straight outings.

The Nationals won their second straight game after losing six of their previous eight.

What it means: The Nats beat the Giants in their first head-to-head matchup of the season. They moved to 60-42 overall and sit five games up on the Miami Marlins in the NL East with exactly 60 games left to play.

Roark too much for Giants: Roark entered Thursday as the less-heralded of the two starting pitchers, but the Nats right-hander thoroughly out-dueled Cueto in a performance that was typical of his strong 2016 season. Roark went seven innings with one run surrendered on four hits and three walks with three strikeouts on 111 total pitches. It was the eighth time this season that Roark has gone at least seven innings with one earned run or fewer allowed. Only Cubs lefty Jon Lester, with nine such starts, has done that more. Roark moved to 10-6 on the year and currently holds a 2.96 ERA.

Turner lights the fuse: The Nats' issues in the leadoff spot may soon become a distant memory. Turner continued to set the table brilliantly on Thursday night with two hits, a walk, a run and a steal. He fills up box scores like no one else on the Nationals right now and the impact he's having on their lineup as a whole as profound. This was the fifth time in his last nine games that Turner has reached base at least twice and the second straight outing he's been on three times. Turner's steal pushed him to 6-for-6 on attempts this season in just 14 total games. Including the minor leagues, he's 31-of-33 this year.

Turner also fared well defensively. Despite being new to center field and playing in a new ballpark, Turner made all the outs that were hit to him. He even reeled in a leaping catch at the wall for the first out of the bottom of the fifth. Turner backed up all the way to the wall and jumped to catch a Mac Williams flyball. The jump may not have been necessary, but he displayed solid instincts near the wall for a guy who is learning on the job out there.

Harper shows some life: Before Harper's RBI double to the left field corner in the sixth, the reigning MVP was 0-for-19 in his last 21 at-bats. As off as he's looked at times this season, Harper had reached one of his lowest points. The double, though was absolutely crushed and it gave the Nats a nice insurance run against a team that has proven resilient in the past.

Up next: The Nats and Giants play another late one with a 10:15 p.m. ET start on Friday night. Max Scherzer (10-6, 2.92) will take the mound for the Nats opposite right-hander Jeff Samardzija (9-6, 4.22).

[RELATED: 'Baseball in the District' - Harper's slump, trade deadline]

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