We haven't talked much about the Nationals roster in the last two months, because the roster hasn't changed at all in the last two months. So it might be time for a refresher on the current state of things, because it's easy to forget what this team currently has in place for 2022 and what it still needs to address once everyone's allowed to address needs again.
Obviously, there will be an opportunity to add players as soon as the lockout ends, though it could be quite a mad rush by all 30 clubs to fill their most-pressing holes before spring training begins. But if they were required to open camp only with what they already have in-house, what would the Nats look like?
We looked at a potential lineup and bench Wednesday, so be sure to go back and read that one if you missed it. Over the next two days, we'll look at the pitching staff, beginning today with the rotation. Which, to be frank, has a whole lot more unanswered questions.
What used to be the unquestioned strength of this franchise is now a weakness entering 2022, with no sure things to be found anywhere. Yes, there are some pitchers with considerable track records, but none enters this season on a high note. And there are some pitchers with intriguing possibility, but none enters this season with any kind of significant track record.
We begin with the most basic question of all, yet one that can't be answered yet: Who starts opening day? For years, this was no question at all. It was Max Scherzer's job, unless he wasn't healthy, at which point Stephen Strasburg would slide right in and take over. Not since 2011 has anyone else taken the ball for Game 1. (And the guy who did it back then, Livan Hernandez, had the assignment for the fourth time.)
It's still possible the streak remains intact and Strasburg gets the assignment March 31 in New York against either Scherzer or Jacob deGrom (lockout pending, of course). But the 33-year-old right-hander has much to prove between now and then, first and foremost that he's fully healthy again following thoracic outlet surgery last summer.
If Strasburg isn't good to go, Patrick Corbin would be the obvious fallback based on experience. But on the heels of back-to-back subpar seasons that ranked among the worst in the National League, is the veteran lefty really worthy of that primo assignment?
Then again, if not Strasburg or Corbin, who? Josiah Gray may be a big part of the future, and the young right-hander certainly impressed at times in August and September. But that's an awfully big assignment for a 24-year-old with 13 career big league starts on his resume, not to mention a boatload of pressure the coaching staff may not want to burden him with.
Behind those top three are two familiar names who have been part of the Nationals rotation, on and off, for years: Joe Ross and Erick Fedde. Ross is a major question mark himself this spring after he was shut down last summer with a partial tear of his elbow ligament. Doctors told the 28-year-old he could try rest and rehab and give it another go this spring, but there's no guarantee he'll be good to go once camp gets underway, with a second career Tommy John surgery unfortunately still within the realm of possibility at some point. Fedde still hasn't realized his potential 7 1/2 years after the Nats used a first-round pick on him, owner of a 5.25 ERA and 1.482 WHIP in 61 career starts.
There are five other starting pitchers on the current 40-man roster, all of them potential candidates to be in the rotation at some point in 2022, some sooner than others.
Paolo Espino was the surprise unsung hero of the 2021 staff, a journeyman who finally got a chance to pitch in the majors for an extended stretch. He more than held up his end of the bargain when called upon, but it's no secret most believe he's best-suited to a jack-of-all-trades role, serving as a rubber-armed long reliever who could start at any moment in case of emergency.
Josh Rogers was another big surprise late last season, emerging from Triple-A to produce a 3.28 ERA in six September starts. Was that a legitimate showing from the 27-year-old lefty, or a complete fluke? Who knows, but Rogers will be in camp with a chance to earn his way onto the staff.
Joan Adon got a chance to make his major league debut on the season's final day, and the young right-hander turned a lot of heads with a nine-strikeout performance against the playoff-bound Red Sox. But he most likely needs more minor league seasoning before returning for good.
Also in need of more seasoning is Gerardo Carrillo, one of the four players acquired from the Dodgers in the Scherzer-Trea Turner blockbuster deal. Carrillo, possessor of a great arm but spotty command, could be summoned eventually to start, or he could end up profiling as a hard-throwing reliever.
Finally, there's Seth Romero, another pitcher who despite ample opportunity hasn't come close to living up to his first-round-pick potential. In the left-hander's case, it's not just about performance. He's also dealt with injuries and multiple off-the-field incidents, the latest a DWI arrest in Texas last month, as first reported by the Washington Post. If Romero hasn't used up all nine of his lives with the Nats, he's awfully close.