Washington Nationals' rotation at the Break: Matt Williams - "Our starters are giving us a chance."

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan and Blake Treinen have provided the Washington Nationals with strong starting pitching through the first 93 games on the schedule. Can they keep it going?

Washington's skipper Matt Williams told reporters in Philadelphia, upon receiving the results of the MRI on Jordan Zimmermann's right arm, that considering the pitcher's injury history and initial concerns about the Nationals' 28-year-old starter after he left the mound just 3 ⅓ IP into his start last Friday night in Citizens Bank Park, that the results were a "big relief."

Though there was "inflammation" in the right-hander's bicep, Williams said they didn't think that what was officially diagnosed as a strain would cause the Nats' '07 2nd Round pick to miss significant time.

"We're wondering about [Zimmermann], and we'll have to see how he reacts over the next few days..." -Matt Williams on Jordan Zimmermann going into the second half

"'I didn’t think it was bad, anything serious,'" Williams explained, as quoted this past weekend by NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman. "'The MRI came back and looked pretty good. A little inflammation. Give it rest for a few days and go home and come back and start throwing on Thursday again.'"

At that point the Nationals can determine what they need to do with the rotation going foward. Williams explained that they could always place Zimmermann on the DL and even back date it if necessary if there were any problems once he resumed throwing, but the fact that the MRI revealed no structural or ligament damage had the manager feeling positive about what the near-future held.

On Sunday, after Tanner Roark started in the series finale with the Phillies and helped to end the first-half with a win, Williams talked about how he would set up the rotation for the second half, which begins on Friday night when the Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers start a three-game set in the nation's capital.

"I just need to do a better job of being smart with the location not necessarily getting into the whole challenge, challenge, challenge." -Stephen Strasburg on at bat vs Orioles' LF Nelson Cruz

"We're wondering about [Zimmermann]," he explained, "and we'll have to see how he reacts over the next few days, but as of right now I believe [Stephen Strasburg] will start the first game, we'll go to Gio [Gonzalez] the second game and Doug [Fister] and then by that time we'll have a good indication on [Zimmermann] and Tanner of course."

Strasburg ended the first half with a strong three-start run which followed a disastrous-ish outing against the Brewers in Miller Park in which he gave up eight hits, three walks and seven earned runs in 4 ⅔ IP.

In the three outings that followed, the 25-year-old right-hander walked three (1.33 BB/9), struck out 26 (11.51 K/9) and put up a 2.21 ERA, with a 2.30 FIP and a .213/.244/.320 line against in 20 ⅓ IP.

The '09 no.1 overall pick ended the first half of his fifth MLB campaign (7-6) with a 3.46 ERA, 2.72 FIP, 26 walks (1.87 BB/9) and 149 Ks (10.73 K/9) in 20 starts and 125 IP.

"I was just trying to do my best to at least keep the team in the game as long as possible. But there's no excuses. I have to pitch better if I want better results." -Gio Gonzalez after his last start of the first-half

Gio Gonzalez returned from the first DL stint of his major league career with a five-start run over which he was (3-1) with the Nationals 4-1 in those outings, over which he put up a 1.93 ERA with 13 walks (3.58 BB/9) and 32 Ks (8.82 K/9) in 32 ⅔ IP over which he held opposing hitters to a combined .182/.272/.245 line.

The first half of the 28-year-old lefty's third season with the Nationals ended with Gonzalez (6-5) in 14 starts, with a 3.56 ERA, 3.29 FIP, 33 walks (3.56 BB/9) and 85 Ks (9.18 K/9) in 83 ⅓ IP.

Doug Fister's 2014 campaign started late after elbow inflammation and a lat strain set him back this spring.

In 12 starts for the Nationals, the 6'8'', 30-year-old right-hander acquired from the Detroit Tigers this winter went (8-2) with a 2.90 ERA, a 4.12 FIP, eight walks (0.93 BB/9) and 45 Ks (5.21 K/9) in 77 ⅔ IP over which he held opposing hitters to a .248/.282/.403 line.

Zimmermann, who missed an opportunity to pitch in the Midsummer Classic for the second straight season when the bicep injury cropped up in his last outing, finished the first half of his sixth MLB campaign with a (6-5) record, a 3.03 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 20 walks (1.59 BB/9) and 101 Ks (8.04 K/9) in 19 starts and 113 IP in which opposing hitters put up a .265/.302/.372 line against him.

Roark's start against the Phillies on Sunday left the second-year major leaguer (8-6) at the Break with a 3.01 ERA, a 3.35 FIP, 25 walks (1.98 BB/9) and 85 Ks (6.73 K/9) in 18 starts and 113 ⅔ IP over which he held opponents to a combined .240/.291/.349 line.

As a rotation, with Taylor Jordan and Blake Treinen making five starts each, the Nationals finished the first half with the NL's second-lowest ERA (3.28), behind only the Dodgers' 3.08 ERA as a staff.

The Nats put up the lowest FIP (3.27) in the NL, ahead of the Dodgers at 3.46, the second-lowest xFIP, 3.43, to LA's 3.20 and the highest combined fWAR at +9.7, ahead of the Dodgers again, at +8.9.

As the Nationals' first-year skipper explained it going into the Break, the Nats' starters as a group have done their part to contribute to the team's first-half success.

"I think it's important for us to continue to do things right," Williams said, looking forward to the last two months-plus of the 2014 campaign.

"Offensively create opportunities and deliver on those opportunities. The bullpen has been good and our starters are giving us a chance. That combination works."

It has so far for the 51-42 Nationals.

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