For Nationals fans - and fans of great starting pitching - the past three games may seem like days in heaven. From the beginning of Tuesday’s win over the New York Mets, the starters have been on a roll, racking up a string of 18 scoreless innings in the team’s three-game winning streak. In their respective starts, Ross Detwiler on Tuesday, Stephen Strasburg on Wednesday and Gio Gonzalez on Thursday showed good control, overpowering stuff and the ability to pitch out of what little trouble they’ve gotten themselves into. They are the main reason why the team is off to its best start since moving to Washington at 5-2.
In fact, Detwiler, Strasburg and Gonzalez put up incredibly similar stat lines. Detwiler: two hits, one walk and six strikeouts over five innings against the Mets. Strasburg: two hits, three walks and nine strikeouts over six innings against the Mets. Gonzalez: two hits, no walks and seven strikeouts in seven innings against Cincinnati. Of course, anyone who has followed Strasburg might expect such numbers, but a look at what Detwiler and Gonzalez have done in the past, according to MLB.com, shows that neither of them is a two-hit wonder, either.
Strasburg’s two starts this season have been a continuation of his strong return from Tommy John surgery in 2010. Since coming back to the big leagues in September, he has allowed just five earned runs in 37 innings, with a WHIP of 0.76. The dominating fastballs and dumbfounding curves are all the way back, as well. His nine strikeouts Wednesday were the most he’s had since closing out his 2011 season with 10 in six innings against the Marlins. Despite the innings limits he will face this season, his selection as No. 1 starter was really a no-brainer for manager Davey Johnson.
For Detwiler, Tuesday’s start extended his personal scoreless innings streak to 18 1-3, dating to last Sept. 20, when he gave up just three hits and one walk in 7 1-3 innings in a 3-0 win over the Phillies. In his last three starts last season, he allowed just 10 hits and six walks in 19 innings, an 0.84 WHIP. Since becoming a full-time starter in August of last year, Detwiler has gone fewer than five innings only once, and that game Sept. 2 against the Mets was the only time he’s allowed more than three earned runs in that span. Other than that, he’s been lights out, and there’s really no reason to wonder why Johnson chose him over John Lannan for the No. 5 starting spot.
Gonzalez’s start Thursday was more typical for April than his 3 2-3-inning, four-run effort last week against the Cubs. He started last season for Oakland by allowing just one earned run on six hits over seven innings, then followed that up with a pair of six-inning scoreless efforts. He finished strong, too, tossing eight innings of shutout ball in his final game for Oakland, after giving up just one run in each of his previous two starts. What’s new for Gonzalez is the control; Thursday’s game was his first without a walk since Aug. 1, 2010. If he continues to paint the corners like he did against the Reds, there will be no second-guessing general manager Mike Rizzo’s decision to trade the team’s top two pitching prospects in a four-player package for Gonzalez.
Starting pitching has been the Nats’ undisputed strength this season, and with the inconsistent state of the offense, it’s going to have to continue carrying the team. Top slugger Michael Morse has been shut down for at least six weeks with a strained lat muscle, and there’s no timetable for his return. Ryan Zimmerman is still finding his stroke in the regular season, hitting just .192 in the first week. Jayson Werth’s batting average is recovering at .296, but he is still struggling with men in scoring position, just 2-for-8 in those situations. The bulk of the offense has come from Adam LaRoche, who’s driven in eight of the team’s 28 runs.
It’s only a matter of time until teams start pitching around LaRoche and daring other players to beat them. The Nats may not need a two-hitter every time out, but they’re going to need plenty more scoreless innings from the starters to continue their winning ways.
Marty Niland blogs about the Nationals for D.C. Baseball History. His thoughts on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.