We all know the major storylines involving the Nationals’ pitchers this spring.
How will Gio Gonzalez react to all the off-the-field issues regarding his linkage to Biogenesis, the anti-aging clinic that allegedly supplied performance-enhancing drugs to major league players? Can Dan Haren stay healthy and showcase the form he displayed over his last seven starts last season, when he pitched to a 2.76 ERA? How many questions about “The Shutdown” will Stephen Strasburg field before getting completely fed up with the topic?
Dig a little deeper, however, and there are a number of other intriguing storylines to watch this spring involving the pitchers the Nationals will have in camp.
Take, for example, Christian Garcia. Is Garcia a starter? Is he a reliever? I’m not sure anyone, even manager Davey Johnson, knows with 100 percent certainty right now.
Garcia was dynamite in a relief role after joining the Nationals late last season, posting a 2.13 ERA in 13 regular season appearances and finding his way on to Johnson’s postseason roster. Now the Nationals hope to stretch Garcia out and make him a starter, bolstering their depth in that role within the organization.
Should that transition not take, however, and Garcia struggle as a starter in spring training, would the Nationals consider scrapping the experiment and putting Garcia back in their bullpen? The 27-year-old was so effective there last season that he quickly proved to be one of the Nats’ top late-inning options. How committed will Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo be to transforming Garcia back into a starter?
Another reliever-turned-starter to watch this spring is Ryan Perry, who posted a 10.13 ERA in seven big league relief appearances last season but then excelled in the minors working in a starting role.
Perry made 13 starts at Double-A Harrisburg, recording a 2.84 ERA and allowing just three home runs in 73 innings. He then took a bit of a step back while pitching in the Arizona Fall League, putting up a 4.96 ERA in six starts.
Can Perry establish himself as an effective starter at Triple-A and prove to be a legitimate option should the Nationals need someone to slide into their rotation if a starter is injured?
The first professional season for Purke, the Nationals’ third-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, was pretty much a wash, as he made just three minor league starts last season, working 15 1/3 innings. The left-hander had surgery in August to relieve bursitis and clean out scar tissue in his throwing shoulder, but he’s expected to be ready for the start of spring training.
Purke signed with the Nationals for more than $4 million after being drafted out of TCU, and was considered one of the most talented hurlers in his draft class. Because of his talent level and injury history, Purke is being called “the biggest X-factor” in the Nationals’ system. We’ll see if he can stay healthy this spring and regain his status as one of the Nats’ top pitching prospects.
Kimball who looked very promising in a short stint with the Nats two seasons ago, also has some work to do in coming back from an injury. He put up a 1.93 ERA in 12 relief appearances in 2011 before needing shoulder surgery.
Still working his way back into form, Kimball made just six minor league appearances last season, but he pitched in 11 games during the AFL season, posting a 4.80 ERA in 15 innings. We all saw that the 27-year-old has the ability to pitch in the majors. Will his shoulder cooperate?