“Starting pitching is king,” Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters in December of 2018, after he’d signed Patrick Corbin to a 6-year/$140M deal, landing the prize starter on the free agent market. Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office added two more arms over the course of the winter, signing veteran right-handed starters Aníbal Sánchez (2-year/$19M deal) and Jeremy Hellickson (1-year/$1.3M) to fill out the Nats’ rotation behind two holdovers named Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.
“Our philosophy is pitching, defense, athleticism, and that’s how we’ve won,” Rizzo said.
“And we feel good about — when we put a guy on the mound each day that gives you a chance to win, and I think that you’ve created yourself a really good chance to have a good ballclub and play deep into October. And I think that’s our philosophy.
“There’s different ways to do this, we’ve seen the bullpening and that type of thing in playoff baseball, but for the marathon that is the season, you’d better have some starters that you can run out there [that give] you a chance to win each and every day, and that’s what we’ve always tried to do here.”
Adding Corbin, Rizzo said at the southpaw’s introductory press conference, gives the Nats what the GM described as “one of the premier left-handed pitchers in all of baseball” atop the rotation, which already featured two of the premier right-handers in the majors, and if Sánchez and Hellickson provide the Nationals with innings and depth, that allows them to continue to develop the likes of Erick Fedde while managing Joe Ross’s innings in his first full season back following Tommy John surgery.
Will either Fedde or Ross force the Nationals’ hand and snag the fifth spot in the rotation with a strong Spring?
To say second-year manager Davey Martinez is excited about the options he has would be an understatement.
He talked at the Winter Meetings about his reaction upon learning that Corbin was coming to the nation’s capital.
“I can’t do a cartwheel right here,” he joked. “It was an early Christmas present. I spoke to him. He’s really excited to be here. Not only the player that you’re getting, but the person that you’re getting. He fits really well with what we’re trying to do.
“I’m excited to see him in uniform, see him in Spring Training, see him interact with the other players.”
Martinez too stressed the need for starting depth, noting that when the Nationals were at their best last year, the rotation was humming.
“Our best month we were [20-7],” he said. “If you look at that month, our starting pitchers were unbelievable, I mean they were going 6 2⁄3 innings, seven innings, eight innings, and we played really well, and we need that. I’ve said that before: starting pitching and defense wins a lot of games. I mean there’s going to be days where you don’t hit, you score two or three runs, if our starting pitching is pitching the way it’s capable of pitching, we’ll win those games. It’s very important.”
In an MLB Network interview in January, Corbin talked about his decision to join the Nats when there were multiple teams courting the left-hander this winter.
“I’m fortunate to have multiple teams that were interested and all were going to be competitive in the upcoming season and years to come,” Corbin explained.
“So it was a good opportunity for me this offseason to have these teams interested and we were able to go visit a bunch of these places and a lot of good people all over, and D.C., to me, I was just looking at the rotation and the team that they’re going to have and I think to be part of a rotation and a team that they’re going to have and I think to be part of a rotation like that and pitch with Strasburg and with Scherzer really excited me.”
The two new catchers the Nationals added this offseason (Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes) were a draw for the free agent starters who signed on in D.C. as well.
Sánchez, who worked with Suzuki in 2018 in Atlanta, credited the backstop with helping to bounce back with his best season in years when it looked like things were winding down in the 34-year-old starter’s 13-year career.
“Suzuki was involved in everything,” Sánchez said. “In every change that I made, every sequence that we worked for, Suzuki was really involved.
“And now having Suzuki in Washington now, it’s easier to commit with the catcher, and besides that I’ve know Yan Gomes for a while when he was with Cleveland, and I know the pitchers that he caught for.”
“The fun will start really in the second half with those guys,” Scherzer explained this winter, “... because the first half it takes a while to really know what’s going on, to get on the same page, but the second half that’s when you really figure out where we’re at.”
As seen in this video the Nationals released yesterday, a day before pitchers and catchers were officially required to report, the work of figuring things out and getting to know one another has already begun...