Nats source: Purke to stay in rotation despite slow start

Double-A Harrisburg left-hander Matt Purke has had a tough start to the season, but the Nationals have no immediate intention of removing him from the starting rotation, a team source told

They also confirm Purke’s shoulder is fine. Purke was a third-round 2011 selection for the Nationals who missed most of the 2012 season because of a shoulder injury. He had left shoulder surgery in August of that season and pitched in 18 games in 2013 between high Single-A Potomac and the Senators.

Following some promising results in the Arizona Fall League, Purke and the Nationals were hoping he would be able to use that success as a springboard into a quick start in 2014.

But it has not happened yet. Purke has struggled to a 0-5 start with a 9.30 ERA in five starts. He has allowed 30 hits in 20 1/3 innings with four homers, 13 walks and has recorded 14 strikeouts.

According to a team source, Purke’s stuff is better than the results have indicated. This is not a health issue, his shoulder is 100 percent healthy. Purke has just not been able to command the baseball like he has in the past.

In October and November of 2013 in the Arizona Fall League, Purke won three of his six starts. In three consecutive starts during the Fall League, he was able to command all three of his pitches. His fastball had a lot of sink to it and his changeup had good depth. He was able to sell the changeup because he showed good arm speed. When Purke is on, his curveball gets swings and misses.

But Purke was unable to continue that consistency for the remainder of the Arizona Fall League season, and that inconsistency has plagued the start of the 2014 regular season.

The Nationals really like his potential to be a major league pitcher, but right now it is all about repeating his delivery. Harrisburg pitching coach Chris Michalak is working with him as he strives to improve.

The team source said Purke has been able to have moments in the bullpen where the command returns, but now must carry it over to a game.

The Nationals are not going to pull Purke from his normal rotation with Harrisburg right now. They are concentrating on getting Purke to repeat his delivery, command all three of his pitches and throw quality strikes.

But the losses this season are also a test of Purke’s self confidence. He has had to battle through injuries a couple of times in his career and has returned to display the ability to get batters out. Now he faces another challenge.

One of the biggest teaching points of the minor leagues is for pitchers to find a way to get out of a jam or end a rally on their own. The ones that learn how to do that game in and game out are the ones that make to the major leagues.

Purke will not have to wait long to get another shot to do just that. His next schedule start is Tuesday versus Richmond.

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