The Washington Nationals are dead last in the majors in innings pitched by their starters, with 211 1/3 IP so far in 2014. The Nats relievers' have the sixth highest total innings pitched through 37 games, with 120 IP, 14 2/3 innings short of the LA Dodgers' NL leading 134 2/3 IP by their bullpen.
In some starts like Jordan Zimmermann's last outing at home against the Dodgers, which was interrupted by rain, the starter was not to blame.
The Nationals' bullpen, did, however, have to cover five innings that night, with Aaron Barrett, Jerry Blevins, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano bridging the gap left by Zimmermann's departure after a three hour and seventeen minute delay.
In others, like Doug Fister's 4 1/3 inning start on Friday, Gio Gonzalez's 4 1/3 inning outing on Sunday in Oakland or Stephen Strasburg's 4 1/3 inning start against Atlanta earlier this season and his four inning start against the Miami Marlins last month, performance dictated Nats' skipper Matt Williams' decision to go to his bullpen early.
Asked after yesterday's loss about lifting Gonzalez in the fifth inning, Williams explained that the left-hander, who threw 88 pitches and allowed nine hits, three walks and seven runs, was done.
"He's approaching 100 pitches and we've got to get him out of there at that point," Williams said. "I could leave him in there, but that does nobody any good, including Gio. So, I want him ready for his next start too."
Hopefully, for the sake of the Nationals' relievers, Zimmermann's abbreviated start last time out will have him fresh and ready to go deep into tonight's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
What really frustrated Zimmermann about his start ending after just four scoreless innings against LA was that he felt sharp on the mound in D.C.
"I had good command of the fastball today and I was locating pretty well," the right-hander told reporters. "And I wish the rain wouldn't have come, it was one of those game where I had a lot of things working and felt my command was pretty good."
The short outings and early deficits so far this season have hurt.
As Williams explained after Gonzalez's start in the O.co Coliseum, leaning on your bullpen like the Nationals have can do long-term damage.
"What it does is it really hurts our bullpen," he said. "Because it taxes our bullpen. So, today's example is Gio, we went with him as long as we could. I'm not just going to leave him out there. So, we had to go to the bullpen again today. We need to do a better job of that certainly. The next three games we've got three horses going for us and hopefully that's not the case."
Zimmermann starts tonight. He's thrown 37 innings in his first seven starts. Stephen Strasburg, who starts tomorrow, is up to 47 1/3 after eight starts. Doug Fister has just one start under his belt so far in 2014, but he was acquired, at least in part, because of his durability, which has allowed him to throw 200+ innings in two of his five major league seasons.