Coming into Spring Training, the Washington Nationals seemingly had a three-pitcher race for the fifth spot in their rotation, with Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, and Austin Voth the top arms in the running to fill out the starting staff behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and recently-signed lefty Jon Lester.
Both GM Mike Rizzo and Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez talked over the first two days of workouts for the 2021 club about finding a starter who can give them length and a chance to win each time their turn in the rotation comes around.
“It’s going to be the pitcher that gives us the best chance to win every fifth day and that’s kind of our criteria throughout,” Rizzo told reporters after the club’s first pitcher and catcher workouts of the Spring, “... is which guy shows us he ability to perform on an every-five-days basis and takes us deep into games and gives us a chance to win.
“We’ve got a lot of good candidates for that role, and we’re one of the few teams in baseball that has a competition only in the fifth starter’s role.
“So we feel fortunate for that, we like our starting rotation, we like the depth in our starting rotation and starting pitching in general. Not only our big four, but the three guys with major league experience that are going to fight for the five-hole spot, and then beyond them we’ve got a plethora of young arms just champing at the bit that [are] going to be pushing the other starters to be better.”
Those “three guys with major league experience”, it would seem, are Ross, the frontrunner, and Fedde and Voth, both of whom were part of the 2020 rotation (Ross opted out of ‘20’s COVID campaign), but the Nationals’ manager mentioned a fourth pitcher in the mix who’d impressed him over the first few days.
“Joe is back. You’ve got Fedde, who did well. You’ve got Voth who’s still here,” Martinez said.
“We picked up a kid that we kind of like too,” he added somewhat cryptically, “... so the four of those guys will be vying, and some of those other guys too, I mean, so right now it’s wide open, but I’m sure one of these guys is going to step up by the end of spring and we’ll have to make a tough decision.”
There was no follow-up to ask, “Um, fourth guy who?” on a busy Day 1 for reporters and the club on Thursday, but when Martinez met with the press on his Day 2 Zoom call on Friday morning, one reporter wondered just who that fourth pitcher he mentioned might be.
“We picked up a kid — and I might be pronouncing his name wrong right now, but [Rogelio Armenteros],” Martinez said, putting the spotlight on the 26-year-old, one-time Astros’ right-hander who was selected off waivers by the Nationals this winter.
“We like him. We saw him, we were able to sign him, but he’s got a mix of four pitches, he’s got a really good changeup he throws 92-95, so I want to see him pitch. He’s got a little bit of experience, and he was really good, so he’s in that mix with the other guys.”
Armenteros underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow in March 2020, so he did not pitch in the 60-game campaign, but he made his major league debut for Houston in 2019, going (1-1) in five games and two starts, over which he had a 4.00 ERA, a 2.77 FIP, five walks, 18 Ks, and a .243/.293/.314 line against in 18 IP. Will he surprise the Nationals and try to claim that fifth spot in Spring Training?
Ross, as noted, would seem the likeliest choice, given his history with the team, so what will he have to show his manager this spring in order to claim the fifth spot?
“He threw the ball well yesterday, really well. Our concern is with, sitting down with [new pitching coach Jim] Hickey, is he didn’t pitch last year, he had no volume.
“But we have to be very careful.
“I know it’s been two years since [Ross] had Tommy John, but we want to keep him healthy.
“With that being said, the beautiful thing is we have a Voth and we have Fedde, so it could be a combination of the three of them. We don’t know yet. We’ll see how Joe gets through Spring Training, how we can build them up, but I like all three of these guys at any given point. They’re all going to help us at some point, I know that, but we’ll see how it all plays out.”
As the skipper said, the Nationals will likely, when all is said and done, need contributions from all three (or four) of the pitchers in the mix this spring.
“It’s nice for one of these three guys to actually step up and become that guy,” Martinez said.
“I’m not going to make any decisions right now, they’re going to go out there and they’re going to pitch and we’ll see what happens this Spring.”