The elbow inflammation that has kept Sean Burnett on the sidelines for much of the past week might be a little worse than originally reported, according to some new remarks passed along by Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider. Burnett was expected to resume throwing before the weekend by all initial accounts, but now won’t even attempt to play catch until sometime Saturday in all likelihood as he continues to experience discomfort in his left arm. Burnett believes the inflammation is due to a nerve, not a muscle, from what Zuckerman heard from Davey Johnson.
Burnett has dealt with elbow trouble off and on all summer but has generally seen good results on the mound for Washington. He’s 1-1 with a 2.49 ERA and a pair of saves over 61 appearances (50.2 IP) with a 1.184 WHIP and career low 1.8 BB/9. He’s been an important part of Johnson’s bullpen late in games, so it’s clearly better that he rests now if it means he’ll be available in the season’s final two weeks and into the postseason. But rest could be affecting the team’s other plans.
The plan all along was to allow John Lannan to appear in a game in relief sometime this wekeend, before he steps into the starting rotation during the Nationals’ upcoming series against the Atlanta Braves. But with Burnett out for an extra few days, the concern is that Lannan may be needed more than once this weekend which could push off his timeline to start in place of Stephen Strasburg.
Lannan was the likeliest candidate to replace Strasburg at this point in the year, going all the way back to news when he was first optioned to Triple-A at the end of Spring Training. He started his year off poorly – demanding a trade and then struggling through his first few outings – but turned things around as the season went on. He pitched back-to-back complete game shutouts in his final two Triple-A starts before joining the Nationals as September began and also looked solid in two starts in Washington earlier this year (2-0, 3.46 ERA, 13.0 IP).
He’s also the most seasoned arm that the team added to the bullpen with their September callups. But Lannan isn’t the only other left-handed option out in the bullpen.
Washington also recalled Zach Duke with the roster expansion, who had a stellar season for Triple-A Syracuse. He made 26 starts (164.1 IP), in which he posted a 15-5 record and 3.51 ERA. He’s not a big strikeout pitcher (just 5.0 K/9) but he gets ground balls and could easily give the team a couple of innings if need be. It doesn’t hurt that he also has 168 Major League starts under his belt either.
The Nationals are in a strong position, even if Burnett needs to sit an extra few days.