VIERA, Fla. - When you’ve got the kind of pitching horses the Nationals possess in their rotation, hardly a day will go by that someone won’t be asking manager Matt Williams to weigh in on just how good his starting five really is.
The acquisition of free agent Max Scherzer, who signed a seven-year, $210 million deal last month, strengthened an already deep unit, pushing 15-game winner Tanner Roark to an undetermined role out of the bullpen. Opposing hitters aren’t going to get many breaks with a rotation that features right-handers Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann, and lefty Gio Gonzalez.
That’s a variety of different speeds and offerings, pitchers who rely on power and sink, guys who can get you out via ground balls or guile. Different personalities, different arm angles, varying backgrounds - all with the same goal.
There’s certainly an air of expectation surrounding the Nationals, at least after the first couple of days of pitchers and catchers working out at the Space Coast Stadium complex. Two days in, all pitchers have thrown bullpen sessions and yesterday manager Matt Williams was asked about the rotation the Nats have assembled, which some are labeling as “historic.”
Williams isn’t a guy given to platitudes, but he’s savvy enough to realize what people are saying. Still, he did what he could to temper that kind of lofty talk.
“Well, there’s expectation all over the place, and that’s a good thing,” Williams said. “Once we understand that and accept that, we look at it as a positive. The word ‘historic,’ I don’t think we can put in our vocabulary at this point because we haven’t gotten there yet. This is spring training. We don’t know, all we have to do is look to last year to know that we don’t know what can happen.”
But he’s clearly as interested as anyone to see what the starting arsenal will do. It’s certainly a far cry from the days when the Nats held what amounted to open casting calls for pitchers, particularly at the back end of the rotation. Back then, if you had a working arm and were breathing, you could have had your name on a locker stall in the home clubhouse at spring training.
What’s impressed Williams so far is the way he’s seen his pitchers go about thier business. That’s been a hallmark early in camp, a workmanlike attitude across the board that emphasizes the here and now, not what might happen in October.
“At the end of the day, they’re all really good workers,” the manager said. “They’re all really prideful. They’re all going out there with the ability to compete on an everyday basis, and they love that. That’s all I look for, and I think that’s all their teammates expect. That they will be prepared, they will take the mound, and they will give us a chance on that given day to win. And I think that’s all they’re really concerned about.”
And all that chatter about the Nationals taking one of the best rotations in the history of the game into the regular season?
All is takes is for one tight forearm, barking elbow or sore shoulder to make the high-falutin’ adjectives in the world a moot point.
“It makes for good copy and it makes for good conversation, but at this point, we’re about the process of getting through spring training and making sure everybody is ready to go and start the season,” Williams said.