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Midseason report card: Pitching

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Midseason report card: Pitching

Earlier today, we graded out the Nationals' lineup and bench. Now it's time to evaluate how the pitching staff performed over the season's first half.

Obviously, the staff as a whole was the best in baseball. Individually, there were a number of fantastic pitchers, both starters and relievers, along with a couple of significantly sub-par performances. (And you can't mention a lot of these guys without complimenting their ability to deliver at the plate; the entire pitching staff boasts a .199 batting average, two homers, 10 RBI and seven doubles.)

Here are the grades for each pitcher on the Nats' roster...

SEAN BURNETT -- A
Picking up right where he left off late last season, the lefty was dominant as Davey Johnson's primary setup man. His numbers would have looked even better if not for a rare, three-run meltdown in Sunday's first-half finale.

TYLER CLIPPARD -- A
Setup man. Fireman. Closer. It didn't matter what role he served, he got the job done time and again. And he was so good in the ninth inning, he'll likely remain as closer even after Drew Storen returns from the DL.

ROSS DETWILER -- B
The Nats went out of their way to make sure he made the Opening Day rotation, and he mostly justified that decision. He still needs to learn how to sustain success into the sixth and seventh innings, but he's made impressive strides.

GIO GONZALEZ -- A
Is anyone complaining about the four prospects Mike Rizzo gave up for him anymore? Didn't think so. The lefty is tied for the NL lead with 12 wins, second in hits per nine innings and fourth in strikeouts.

MICHAEL GONZALEZ -- B
The veteran lefty was signed to a minor-league deal in May and quickly wound up in the big-league bullpen. He's been very effective against left-handed hitters, holding them to just two hits in 20 at-bats.

TOM GORZELANNY -- B-
Unable to win a rotation spot, he's done a mostly nice job transitioning into a long relief role, though sometimes he's susceptible to the long ball. Only Chien-Ming Wang and Henry Rodriguez have served up more home runs per nine innings.

EDWIN JACKSON -- B
If not for his first-inning bugaboo (17 earned runs allowed in 16 starts) he'd be among the most dominant pitchers in the NL. As it is, he's still a durable workhorse and the best No. 4 starter in the game.

RYAN MATTHEUS -- B
The right-hander has given up earned runs in only five of 29 appearances and has shown a propensity for pitching his way out of jams.

HENRY RODRIGUEZ -- D
When he's on, he's as dominant as any reliever in the game. When he's off, he's as combustible as any reliever in the game. Unfortunately, he's been off way more than he's been on.

CRAIG STAMMEN -- A-
Who knew this former starter's sinker would translate so well into the bullpen? The right-hander was brilliant through the season's first six weeks, and though he's had a few hiccups recently, he's become a valuable asset for Davey Johnson.

DREW STOREN -- Inc.
The Nats had high hopes for their young closer after he saved 43 games last season. A bone spur in his right elbow, though, required surgery. He's expected to make his season debut Friday, though he'll probably do so as a setup man to Tyler Clippard.

STEPHEN STRASBURG -- A
Any lingering questions about the state of his arm post-Tommy John surgery have been quashed. The only thing holding him back now is the Nationals' plan to shut him down at some point in early September.

CHIEN-MING WANG -- F
A freak hamstring injury in spring training derailed his latest comeback attempt, and he's battled all kinds of mechanical issues since. He's back on the DL with a hip issue, but his window of opportunity has just about closed for good.

JORDAN ZIMMERMANN -- A
He doesn't get the attention or praise that Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez do, but he's been every bit as good as his rotation mates. The only hangup: He doesn't get much run support, leading to a 5-6 record that doesn't accurately reflect his performance.

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Nationals Ace Max Scherzer will not be team's opening day starter

Nationals Ace Max Scherzer will not be team's opening day starter

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said that Max Scherzer is not on track to be the team's opening day starter, and will most likely open the season as the third pitcher in the rotation. 

Scherzer has been the team's starter on opening day for the past two seasons, but a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger caused him to miss the start of spring training, and the World Baseball Classic. 

Scherzer did, however, make his first MLB spring training start of 2017 on Wednesday. The 2016 NL Cy Young award winner allowed two earned runs on five hits over 4.2 innings. He added four strikeouts and one walk, and reportedly looked just like you would expect from Max Scherzer. 

"To be out there competing, throwing all my pitches, throwing them for strikes, that's a great first outing," Scherzer told Eddie Matz of ESPN after the game. "Finger's good. Finger feels like a finger. I'm getting through that injury. It's behind me now."

With Scherzer set to open the season as the third starter in the rotation, that likely means that Stephen Strasburg will start on opening day against the Miami Marlins, and Tanner Roark will slot in behind him. 

While it's nice to have your ace pitcher starting on opening day, it's not a huge deal to have Scherzer start the season third in the rotation, especially because the Nationals starting rotation is the strength of the team

RELATED: Nationals' Tanner Roark pitches four scoreless innings to help Team USA beat Japan in WBC

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Nationals' Tanner Roark pitches 4 scoreless innings in US defeat of Japan in WBC

Nationals' Tanner Roark pitches 4 scoreless innings in US defeat of Japan in WBC

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Luke Gregerson's final strike breezed past Nobuhiro Matsuda, and the rain-drenched American players celebrated on the field while a soaked crowd roared through the evening mist.

A daylong downpour couldn't dampen this resilient United States club or its fans, who will finally get to root for the home team in a World Baseball Classic championship game.

Brandon Crawford scored the tiebreaking run when Matsuda bobbled Adam Jones' grounder to third in the eighth inning, and the United States reached the WBC final for the first time by beating Japan 2-1 on Tuesday night at rainy Dodger Stadium.

Andrew McCutchen drove in an early run for the U.S., which will play Puerto Rico for the title Wednesday night. Puerto Rico edged the Netherlands 4-3 in 11 innings Monday.

"It means a heck of a lot," said McCutchen, the Pittsburgh Pirates slugger. "We've got a great group of guys on this team who have dedicated this time to be able to try and win some ballgames. Sacrifices had to be made, and there are no egos when that door opens. That's what's good about this team. Everybody is a superstar on this team. There are no egos."

The World Baseball Classic final has been played in the United States in each of its four editions, but the home team had never been able to play America's pastime on what has become its biggest international stage. The U.S. only reached the semifinals once before, in 2009.

While manager Jim Leyland's current roster is missing Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout and many other American superstars, the All-Star-laden group that decided to participate has won two straight elimination games to earn a chance for the U.S.' first crown.

"Coming into this event, I didn't really want to talk about the fact that the United States has never won it (and) they've never gone to the finals," Leyland said. "I didn't think that was a big deal. I wanted this, for the players, to be a memory. I've talked a lot about it. Make a memory. Hopefully it's a real good one, regardless of the results (Wednesday). I know it is for me. It's been an absolute honor."

To reach the final, the Americans had to persevere through an uncharacteristic Los Angeles rain that drenched the playing field several hours before game time. They also had to beat a gifted Japanese team at its own game: pitching, defense and small ball.

Ryosuke Kikuchi hit a tying homer off reliever Nate Jones in the sixth inning for Japan, but the two-time WBC champions were twice let down by their normally sturdy defense.

McCutchen opened the scoring with an RBI single in the fourth moments after Kikuchi's two-base error at second. In the eighth, Crawford likely would have been out at the plate on Jones' innocent grounder, but Matsuda didn't field it cleanly and had to throw to first.

"Well, two plays," Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said through a translator. "Honestly, there were some mistakes, and then a run was scored. ... The team that makes mistakes will lose. That's what it means. I cannot blame them, though, for doing that."

Japan won the first two WBC tournaments before losing in the 2013 semifinals, and Kokubo's current team was unbeaten in this event.

"The players really did their very best," Kokubo said. "I really appreciate it. It's do-or-die, one semifinal."

Tanner Roark pitched four scoreless innings of two-hit ball before Leyland pulled him on the instructions of the Washington Nationals, who limited Roark to 50 pitches because he hadn't faced live hitters in nine days.

"I felt good enough to stay out there," Roark said.

Gregerson, the Americans' sixth reliever, worked a perfect ninth inning after Pat Neshek escaped a two-on jam in the eighth.

Leyland is confident he'll have a capable bullpen Wednesday after receiving texts from various pitching coaches around the majors on the status of their players. Toronto's Marcus Stroman, the starter, is free to reach the WBC's 95-pitch limit, Leyland confirmed.

Although the crowd of 33,462 strongly favored the team with five California natives in the starting lineup, thousands of Japanese fans showed up early and chanted throughout the game, accompanied by the brass band in the left-field bleachers.

Tomoyuki Sugano, the Yomiuri Giants ace with a seven-pitch repertoire, tossed six innings of three-hit ball for Japan, striking out six and yielding only one unearned run.

But Sugano was matched by Roark, who gave up just two singles and a walk in his four innings, also hitting a batter with a pitch.

After Christian Yelich reached second in the fourth inning when his hard-hit grounder was mishandled by Kikuchi, the standout defensive second baseman, Eric Hosmer worked out of an 0-2 count to draw a two-out walk.

McCutchen had just two hits in his first 14 at-bats in the WBC, but he drove in Yelich with a sharp single to left.

Kikuchi made up for his mistake in the sixth, driving Jones' fastball barely over the reach of McCutchen in right field for his first homer of the tournament.

Japan reliever Kodai Senga struck out the first four batters he faced with a 96 mph fastball and exceptional off-speed stuff, but Crawford then delivered a sharp single before Ian Kinsler doubled to deep left-center.

Neshek got cleanup hitter Yoshimoto Tsutsugoh on a fly to right to end the eighth.