Washington Nationals (1-2) at Houston Astros (2-1)
Game 4: April 7, 8:05 pm; MASN/WDCA; WTWP; XM 187
Tony Armas, Jr. (7-7, 4.97 in 2005) vs. Brandon Backe (10-8, 4.76)
In three games, Washington's starters have combined for fifteen innings pitched, an average of five innings per start. Obviously, this pace is a significant problem if stretched over a long stretch of games. (For reference, the National League average last season was virtually six innings per start.) Inasmuch as this is the fourth game of the season, the situation is not dire; however, if the Nationals are looking for a starter to set the example and provide some innings tonight, they could scarcely have drawn worse luck:
YEAR GS IP P/IP 2004 16 72 18.4 2005 19 101 17.7
Over the past two (partial) seasons, Armas has made thirty-five starts, averaging under five innings for every time he trots to the mound. Obviously, some of Armas' lack of endurance is attributable to taking it easy coming off injury. Nevertheless, as we observed last season, he can be tediously inefficient, even when he actually gets the job done. Ask Brick about the first inning of Armas' start against the Mariners last June.
As for the Astros' starter, Brandon Backe, look out for his bat---he's a career .246/.303/.356 hitter (albeit in only 61 at-bats). Although Backe is pretty comparable to Hack Clayton, give or take, the opposition usually does not prefer to face nine batters of position player caliber.
Nat at Bat: Jose Guillen. If nothing else, he might be looking to kill the ball. Minute Maid Park's left field is inviting, and right handed hitters actually have a better home run rate off the righty Backe than lefty hitters do.