The Nationals' starting rotation has been a work in progress ever since Joe Ross went down with right shoulder inflammation on July 3 in a start against the Reds. Since that day, they've tried three different rookies with varying levels of failure and success. Unfortunately for them, it's been much more the former than the latter.
It was already a complicated and precarious situation, and then Stephen Strasburg landed on the disabled list with right elbow soreness on Monday. Even with Ross making progress on Tuesday by throwing a bullpen session, the Nationals starting group is currently a patchwork operation.
This weekend they will yet again have decisions to make as to which rookie starts and when. A.J. Cole is lined up to start Saturday against the Rockies and is likely to do so. Sunday would be Reynaldo Lopez' turn, but Lopez got blasted by the Orioles on Tuesday and lasted just 2 2/3 innings. Like the O's, the Rockies are a tough opponent, no matter the ballpark.
Cole going Saturday and Lopez on Sunday appears to be the plan for now, but Lucas Giolito is another name to watch. The former first round pick tossed just one inning for Triple-A Syracuse on Tuesday night as a plan to set him up for this weekend.
"If necessary," manager Dusty Baker said of the plan for Giolito. "You want him to sharpen up to get some work, but you don't want him to overwork in case we need him. Who knows? We don't think that we will need him right now because of the way [Cole] pitched the other day. That was just in case because you don't know. You don't know until you get to that day and you still don't know what you're going to get come Saturday."
Another factor to keep in mind is the workload of each young pitcher, particularly for Lopez who is already at 127 2/3 innings this season combined between the minor leagues and the majors. His previous career-high for one year was 99 innings, set in 2015. Before that, in 2014, he pitched 83 1/3 innings.
Lopez is already in uncharted territory, but the Nationals aren't close to shutting him down or shifting him to the bullpen.
"That subject really hasn't come up right now, yet," he said. "Do we put too much emphasis in workload, or are we not sometimes overworking them? I think it varies per person. He doesn't look like he's tired to me. Who is to replace these guys? How many replacements do you have if you want to win the pennant? It doesn't work both ways."
Baker, who has been criticized for his handling of young starting pitchers in the past, then explained how the Nats have a lot at stake this season. They will do their best to look out for young pitchers, but also have World Series aspirations in mind.
"It's hard to have it both ways. You try to monitor it, but at the same time you're trying to win. The teams that are in the playoffs a lot, the teams that are in the playoffs a lot in basketball and football, they don't get many breaks. LeBron James and these guys, how many breaks have they gotten from being in consecutive playoff situations? They're playing 20 percent of their season in the playoffs every year. It's hard to have it both ways," he said.
[RELATED: Lopez rocked as Nats suffer lopsided loss to Orioles]
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