Heading into play on Thursday, the Washington Nationals’ starters, as a group, had the 4th-lowest ERA in the National League (3.79), the 2nd-lowest FIP (3.55), 5th-lowest BB/9 (2.94), highest K/9 (9.96), 4th-lowest BAA (.235), 4th-lowest WHIP (1.23), and second-highest total innings pitched (389 1⁄3).
Patrick Corbin has struggled in his last three starts, but the Nats’ top three of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Corbin have been solid for the most part this season, and with their back end starters (Aníbal Sánchez and Erick Fedde) impressing over the last few weeks, the starting pitching has been a strength for the organization as a whole as they have tried to turn things around after a rough start to the 2019 campaign.
Talking with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday morning, GM Mike Rizzo talked up Sánchez in particular, who posted a 5.91 ERA in his first six starts and 32 innings pitched in the month of April after he signed a 2-year/$19M free agent deal with the Nats over the winter, struggling out of the gate in his first season in D.C.
Since the start of May, however, Sánchez has put up a 1.63 ERA in six starts and 27 2⁄3 IP, and since coming off a stint on the 10-Day Injured List for a hamstring injury, the 35-year-old, 14-year veteran has a 1.04 ERA in three starts and 17 1⁄3 IP. What’s changed for the right-hander?
“I think he’s a healthier pitcher right now,” Rizzo explained.
“I think that he started the season, coming out of Spring Training I don’t think he was 100% perfectly ready to pitch or healthy to pitch. He had that hamstring issue like I think in his third start or second start of the season. It wasn’t that devastating so he kind of pitched through it and then finally hurt it later on during the season, but I think that when he’s come off the [Injured List] he’s strengthened his core muscles and his lower body and I think that you’re seeing the effects of it right now. His command is much, much better, and he’s a pitcher that’s reliant on [having] pinpoint accuracy with all of his pitches, and he’s inducing the soft contact that we saw the last couple years, and I think he’s becoming the pitcher that we envisioned him [being] when we signed him.”
While he didn’t mention Corbin’s recent struggles, which manager Davey Martinez chalked up to mechanical issues and command, Rizzo said the success of his starters, especially at the back end, has helped to take some of the pressure off the Nats’ relief corps, which was one of several serious issues for the Nationals in the first two months of the 2019 campaign, but has shown signs of improvement in recent weeks.
“Our starting pitching leads the league in innings pitched*,” Rizzo said. “They’ve done their job, they’ve lifted their load, and our bullpen has taken over and pitched much, much better the last four or five weeks, and that has kind of shown in the standings also, but as you get consistent starts out of all five guys you don’t have to be so reliant on your big three and kind of going into each and every series saying, ‘Man, this is must-win, because the back end guys aren’t doing well.’”
Jeremy Hellickson, who hasn’t pitched since May 19th and has been on the IL since May 21st with a right shoulder strain, suffered a setback recently and was shut down, so it looks like it will be Sánchez and Fedde for now, which has worked out well thus far.
“Sánchez is a consummate professional who’s had success in the past,” Rizzo said.
“Erick Fedde looks like he has turned the corner and become the starting pitcher that we’ve envisioned him to be and a guy that I think is going to be a mainstay in the rotation for years to come and a guy that we’re really going to lean on and you combine those guys with the three strong front of the rotation guys, I like the rotation, I think it’s back in form and it’s flowing pretty good, and I think one guy kind of builds of the other and there’s some good synergy that goes along with that kind of competition from starters.”
Fedde struggled in the series opener with the Arizona Diamondbacks last night, but it will be Max Scherzer in the second of four with the D-backs in D.C. tonight.
[ed. note - “ * = As mentioned in the first paragraph, the Nationals’ have the second-highest total innings pitched from their starters, not the most as Rizzo said.”]