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Washington Nationals’ 2023 Rotation: Will we see Joan Adon in D.C. in ‘23?

Joan Adon debuted in 2021, and started the 2022 season in the big league rotation, but he struggled. So what’s next?

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Joan Adon debuted in the majors in Game 162 of 162 in 2021, five years after signing with Washington as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in July of 2016, and he made 12 starts for the Nationals at the start of the 2022 campaign, going (1-10) with a 6.95 ERA, 5.64 FIP, 35 walks, 44 Ks and a .283/.393/.466 line against in 55 2⁄3 innings pitched before he was optioned to the club’s top minor league affiliate, the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings.

Adon came back up for two more starts, one in mid-June and another in early July, both losses, which left him with a 7.10 ERA, 5.11 FIP, and a .290/.392/.481 line against in 64 23 innings pitched overall in the majors.

At Triple-A, the 24-year-old right-hander put up a 4.68 ERA and a 4.92 FIP in 10 starts and 42 13 IP.

Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said after the mid-June outing he was happy to see Adon apply some of the advice they had given him when they initially sent him down.

“He seemed a little bit more poised,” Martinez told reporters. “I know we talked a lot about his tempo. For a while there he was shaking off a lot of pitches, and then him and [catcher] Riley [Adams] got on the same page. His tempo was a lot better. He was getting on the mound, ready to go, so that was good. This was all stuff that we talked to him [about] before he left, and I could really see that he took it to heart. He’ll go back down there and continue to work on that stuff, but once again, I really don’t think he’s that far away from coming back here and helping us win some games. I mean, he really threw the ball better. He used his legs better. As you can see he was throwing 97s today, which was awesome.”

MLB: JUL 08 Nationals at Braves Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When it comes to his poise, Adon, early in the season, told reporters he doesn’t really have any nerves when he’s on the mound, even early in his big league career.

“This is what I do,” he said confidently. “This is what I love to do. If this is what I love doing, then why would I be nervous?”

Adon averaged 95 MPH on his fastball in the majors this past season, mixing in an 80 MPH curve, throwing his four-seamer 65.5% of the time and going to his curve 23.2% of the time while mixing in a changeup (6.8%), sinker (3.8%), and a slider (0.7%).

Though he was up earlier than expected, Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters early this past spring Adon was on his radar coming into the season as a pitcher who could help the club at some point, and injuries created an opportunity.

“He was on my radar to be one of our rotation guys this year at some time during the season,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies.

“Now that didn’t necessarily mean Opening Day, but we’re down three starting pitchers that we planned on this year with [Aníbal] Sánchez, [Stephen Strasburg], and [Joe] Ross, so we’re kind of having to put guys into positions that they’re a little bit uncomfortable with, but we have to take into consideration the make-up of the player, and we felt that Adon, mentally, was certainly ready for it, and physically you could see him taking his steps forward each and every time.”

Those steps included some on-the-fly adjustments the club made with Adon after he was apparently tipping his pitches early on.

“I’ve seen great adjustments over the course of the season with him. We’ve [raised] his hands on his pre-pitch windup preparation, and he’s taken to that,” the GM explained in another visit with the Sports Junkies in May.

“He was tipping pitches early on in the season, we think we have put that to bed, so there’s a lot of things that he’s gone through in his young rookie season that there’s a lot to be pleased about.

“So, the main thing is he’s got great stuff, and comments from other managers that have faced him think that this guy is the real deal, with a little polishing up he’s going to be a really good one.”

Following his July 7th start, his final one in the majors last season, Martinez was a bit more critical of what he’d seen from the starter.

“Today, he got from the wind-up, and his body was swaying one way and trying to throw the other way, so we told him to go out there and just pitch from the stretch, [and he] did much better,” Martinez told reporters.

“So that’s something we can obviously look at. I know [Stephen] Strasburg always pitches from the stretch, so we told him it’s not a horrible thing to do, but that’s kind of the minimal instructions that we could do while he’s here in the games, but you know, we just got to get, like I said, when he’s in the strike zone and he’s making pitches, he’s effective, and we can see that, and just all of a sudden when he starts throwing the balls — non-competitive pitches, his pitch count gets up and next thing you know he’s behind in the count and he gets hit.”

A few days later, Adon was returned to Triple-A, with his manager explaining they wanted him to continue his development in the minors.

“We’re going to send Adon back just to continue his development process,” Martinez said.

“Like I talked to him earlier, he was throwing a lot more changeups down in Rochester because we wanted him to. He didn’t throw as many, we want him to get comfortable throwing it.

MLB: JUL 08 Nationals at Braves Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“I know we’ve been talking to him about his breaking ball usage, when to use it, so it’s just part of his development.

“We had a great conversation this morning. He understands. Like I said before, he’s a big part of our future, but we want to get him going, get him consistent with all his pitches, and the most important thing, as I always say, is throwing strikes, you know, location on all his pitches, so he’s going to go down there, he’s going to pitch ... down there, and we’ll get him going and see where he’s at in a couple weeks.”

A wrist injury kept Adon off the mound for over a month after his final big league outing on July 7th, but he returned to the mound on August 10th in Triple-A and made eight starts down the stretch to wrap up his 2020 season, putting up a 2.48 ERA and a .203 BAA in five starts in September before he was done for the year.

Adon has made two starts for Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Winter League so far this winter.

So where does he fit in the Nationals’ plans for 2023? Starting depth at Triple-A to start the season? Do you see him making a push for the Opening Day roster this spring?