On Nationals staff, competition is king

Five days ago, Ross Detwiler went five shutout innings.

The next day, Stephen Strasburg threw six shutout frames. Gio Gonzalez followed with seven scoreless innings. Jordan Zimmermann then tossed seven innings of one-run ball in a 2-1 13-inning win. Then yesterday, Edwin Jackson threw a complete game, allowing just one run.

If it seems like the Nationals’ starters are actively trying to one-up each other on a daily basis, it’s because they are. The guys in the Nationals rotation are on fire right now, and when it’s time for the next guy on the staff to trot out to the mound, he does so knowing that he needs to keep up with the pack.

You hear all the time about how starting pitchers compete with each other, but there’s definite truth to those words. Right now, the Nats starters are all dueling, and no one wants to be the guy who fails to deliver.

“There’s no doubt about it,” manager Davey Johnson said. “That’s what happens on all good staffs. They all kind of peer pressure. ‘You threw a good one, I’m going to throw a better one.’ That kind of deal.”

Steve McCatty witnessed that dynamic up close during his nine-year major league career. Now, working as the Nats’ pitching coach, the former Oakland A’s hurler sees that competitive fire from another angle.

“There’s always competition. I don’t care what anybody says,” McCatty said. “You don’t want to be the guy that’s slacking. Our big thing was, I’d go 8 2/3 innings and guys would come in saying: ‘You can’t go nine, huh?’ You don’t want to be the guy that’s not pitching well. It’s a friendly competition, but they take it seriously. And that’s good. There’s nothing wrong with that, at all.

“You have a pitching staff, you’ve got to have that little desire to do better than the other guy to have that competition. Because it gets you going. Nobody wants to be the last guy.”

Jackson felt some of that yesterday.

He took to the mound knowing that in this most recent turn through the rotation, starting with Detwiler’s outing, the Nationals’ starters had allowed just one run and nine hits in 25 innings. He left the field not only doused with Gatorade, courtesy of catchers Jesus Flores and Wilson Ramos, but also having improved the Nats already sparkling recent starting pitching statistics.

Including Jackson’s nine innings and the final frame of his last start, Nationals starters have now allowed just two runs on 11 hits over their last 35 innings, good for a 0.51 ERA. Overall, the Nats’ five starting pitchers have a 1.75 ERA this season, which is just absolutely filthy.

“I mean, no one wants to be the weakest link,” Jackson said after his outing yesterday. “And when you have a staff like that to where it’s competitive but it’s fun, it’s always great when you can go out. These guys, they put pressure on me today.

“You had Gio pitched a great game, then you had Zim pitch a great game and to have to follow that you just try to go out and try to continue to keep everything going in a positive direction with the momentum.”

You’re up next, Mr. Detwiler.

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