Needing more from the bottom two spots in the rotation

PHILADELPHIA - Two days ago, the Nationals deficit in the National League East had been cut to four.

Just like that, it’s back to six.

Two Nats losses here in Philly coupled with two Braves wins over the Marlins, and there goes the momentum again.

The good news for the Nats is that they’ll now send Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann to the mound in the final two games of this series against the Phillies.

Want to know just how good that news is? Let’s go to the numbers.

When either Gonzalez or Zimmermann start a game this season, the Nats are 26-10, a .722 winning percentage. When any of the Nats’ other starters take the mound, the Nats have gone just 20-34, a lowly .370 winning percentage.

Stephen Strasburg has gotten some awful luck this season. We know about the lack of run support he’s received, and even with that, the Nats have still won seven of the 17 games he’s started.

Outside of the top three starters, however, the six other guys to start games for the Nats this season - Ross Detwiler, Dan Haren, Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf, Nathan Karns and Taylor Jordan - have, as a group, not had much success in the wins and losses department. The Nats have won just 13 of their 37 starts.

Some of it, of course, isn’t their fault. Jordan got the loss last night despite pitching fairly well. He allowed four runs (three earned) over 5 2/3 innings, and yet again was let down by the Nats not scoring many runs and playing some shaky defense behind him.

Jordan now has a respectable 3.45 ERA in his three major league starts, but despite that, he has an 0-2 record next to his name.

The issue with Jordan is that while he’s pitched incredibly well early in games, he’s gotten into trouble the second and third time through the batting order.

His first time through, Jordan has held opposing hitters to a .130/.259/.130 slash line. The second time through, those numbers jump to .308/.333/.679. The third time through, hitters have crushed Jordan to the tune of a .533/.533/.600 line.

The more big league hitters see of a young pitcher, the more they’ll be able to adjust and find his weaknesses.

“I think when new pitchers come up, they have the advantage the first couple starts at least, because there’s not much video on him and nobody knows what they tend to do,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “This league, there’s a reason why it’s hard to stay around, because there’s so much information that if you can’t adapt or adjust to what the league does to you, it’s tough. But I think he’s got the stuff to do that. I don’t see why he can’t.”

Jordan noted last night that he thinks he’s tipping his pitches, that hitters are getting a view of how he’s gripping the ball when he holds it behind his back while looking in for the sign. That’s something that he’s battled since coming up to the majors and will continue to work on.

The bottom line is the Nats will need more from their starters not named Zimmermann, Gonzalez or Strasburg. They can get by in the playoffs with three elite starters (in fact, their rotation screams postseason success, if they’re able to get there), but when you trail by six games in the division, it’s tough to make up ground when you have trouble getting wins from 40 percent of your rotation.

Again, not all of that is the fault of Haren, Jordan, Detwiler or anyone else getting the ball for the Nats. Haren allowed just two runs over five innings on Monday night and still got stuck with the loss.

But the top three starters can’t do it all, that’s for sure.

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