Talking to reporters over the final weekend of the 2022 campaign, Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo made it clear that the pitching in D.C. would have to improve after a 2021 season which saw the club struggle in numerous aspects of the game.
“I think the pitching definitely has to improve. This game is built on pitching, it’s built on starting pitching for me, and we have to get better in that aspect for sure,” Rizzo said.
For the club to compete, the GM and President of Baseball Operations in the nation’s capital acknowledged, they will need significant contributions from starters Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Joe Ross, with Strasburg and Ross struggling with injury issues last year (after Stras was injured and Ross opted to sit out in 2020), and Corbin trying to figure out what’s ailed him for the past two seasons after he helped the Nationals win the World Series in his first run with the club in 2019.
“I think that it’s a reasonable expectation that Strasburg and Patrick and Ross have to pitch more effectively and more often for us to quicken this reboot,” Rizzo explained, having kicked off the organizational reboot with a series of trades at last July 30th’s deadline.
“But this thing is built on starting pitching, starting pitching depth, and that’s what we’re trying to obtain via free agency, draft, and that type of thing like we have in the past.”
They need Strasburg, Corbin, and Ross all healthy and contributing at the top of the team’s rotation, and they’ll need the other arms on the 40-man roster right now (Erick Fedde, Josh Rogers, Josiah Gray, Joan Adon (?), Paolo Espino), and the prospects coming up through the system (Cade Cavalli, Jackson Rutledge, Gerardo Carrillo, Cole Henry), along with whatever additions they make once signings and trades start up again (assuming they do hammer out a new CBA out at some point) contributing if they’re going to compete for a postseason berth or just play important games in September.
“As we’ve seen, these are long seasons, and 162 [games] is definitely a marathon, and you saw the amount of pitchers that we went through this year,” Rizzo said back in October, “... and you leave Spring Training with a set of five starters and you turn around and you’ve got one of the five left. Life comes at you fast, and it came at us fast pretty quickly this year, but you have to have the organization that can sustain it, and that’s what we’re building towards.”
Do new arms (acquired via free agency or trade) figure in the club’s plans? Will they sign high-end pitchers to long-term deals or sign depth-type arms on one-year contracts to supplement the in-house options?
“I think each case is individual,” Rizzo said. “I think if you see the right moves that’s going to sustain you through the rebuild and the championship years, I think that makes sense. I think some really good one-year deals make sense. We implemented that last winter, and we signed a couple of really fine one-year contracts to some players.
“I think we’re going to be open-minded about both of them and I think that this offseason is going to be exciting for us. We’re looking at putting together a roster in a different way this year, so I’m excited about the challenge and I think the coaching staff is also.”
STRASBURG + FUTURE:
Strasburg’s issues, in particular, after he had injuries derail him in 2020 as well, hit skipper Davey Martinez hard. Carpal tunnel neuritis which eventually led to surgery limited Strasburg in the follow-up to 2019’s World Series win (and World Series MVP nod), and last season it was neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome that required surgery which ended his 12th MLB campaign.
“Strasburg having surgery, that kind of hurt me a little bit,” Martinez said when asked about how he handled the disappointing 2021 season personally, “.. because I really wanted Stras to go out and have a really good year, because he really worked hard, and he’s really working hard right now to get back, he wants to get back, but it was, for me — just looking at these guys that I’ve known for a while now, and going through what they’ve gone through, that’s more what I feel more than anything else.”
Strasburg, Corbin, Ross, (who suffered a partial tear of the UCL in his right elbow, but did not have a second Tommy John surgery, rehabbing the injury instead), and Gray figure to end up being the top four starters if everyone is healthy and performing well, but the Nationals know they will need plenty of other pitchers to contribute.
All of them will be working with Jim Hickey again.
HICKEY SEASON 2:
The veteran pitching coach is returning for a second year in the role for the Nats, with Martinez over the final weekend of the regular season giving his old friend an endorsement for the job he did with the pitchers they had last year.
“Hickey has been great,” Martinez said.
“Hickey’s voice has been heard. He does a great job of communicating with pitchers day in and day out.”
As for what exactly he liked that he saw from the pitching coach?
“I’ve known him for a lot of years, he works hard, he works diligently, he spends hours and hours assessing hitters, and he knows — the funny thing is he knows our hitters really well as well because he watches all that, but I can’t wait for him to get these guys with him for another year and continue to work with them,” he added.
Though the pitching wasn’t what the Nationals wanted it to be last season, Martinez said there were plenty of issues that need to be addressed.
“We got to look at the big picture, and it’s everything. So, for me, when you talk about the pitching, you’ve also got to talk about the defense. you know, that’s important too,” he said.
“You can’t always say that the pitchers were this, the pitchers were that. We did change faces in the bullpen, but you’ve also got to look at the overall picture.
“Our defense, in the second-half of the season, hasn’t been great, we saw some signs of them getting a lot better, but it hasn’t been great. And so we definitely need to get better defensively in order to help our pitchers out.”