There has not been a lot said after the Miami Clinic Biogenesis reports that implicate Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez and his father both denied, unequivocally, any implications with banned substances.
September 5, 2012; Washington, D.C., USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (47) in the on-deck circle during the second inning against the Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
After that, more reports surfaced that linked Gonzalez to a pink cream that included synthetic testosterone which is banned by most drug policies in sports. I am not making any judgement on Gonzalez or trying to guess if it is enough for Major League Baseball to suspend him without a positive test. However, the Nationals have to start thinking of a Plan B with their ace pitcher just in case.
I have said, probably since the beginning of the off-season, that the Nationals need as much pitching as they can get, especially when it comes to people who can start games and step up if anything happens to their starters. Like I said, the Nationals had one of the healthiest starting rotations in baseball last year, and that is the kind of thing that doesn’t last from season to season. In fact, the Nationals would have had even less pitchers starting games had they not shut down Stephen Strasburg. Saying a pitcher is going to get injured is kind of like saying it’s going to rain in the Spring. Getting it right doesn’t mean you’re Nostradamus and no one will blame you for getting it wrong. This, obviously, is something completely different but the ramifications are the same. The Nationals face a possibility that they will be without Gonzalez for a period of time.
Now, who is there to step up into that sixth starter role to replace Gonzalez? The team had talked about making Christian Garcia a starter but his major arm injuries have come as a starter and it will take time for the Nationals to stretch him out. So that is one option, especially since the Nationals added Rafael Soriano to the bullpen to allow Garcia to stretch out in the minor leagues.
Another option is Zach Duke. Duke started very well for Syracuse last season and has been a starter for most of his professional career. He can step up in the swing role that Tom Gorzelanny was in last year. And that won’t leave the Nationals without a left-hander in the bullpen because they have Fernando Abad and Bill Bray who can fill that role in middle innings.
As linked above, they also might have an option in Javier Vazquez. If a decision is made on Gonzalez before he signs somewhere, Vazquez might see the opening in Washington as a perfect fit. Most contending teams won’t have that kind of opening in their rotation.
The problem with using either Duke or Garcia is that the Nationals don’t really have a seventh or eighth option to start games. If injuries come in bunches (as they often do), it could mean big trouble and desperation for a contending team such as Washington.
It’s possible that the team won’t need eight starters. They didn’t last year. But in the instance they do, they are not prepared at all. Look at Texas last year for example. They started the year with Colby Lewis, Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz. By the end of July they had to use top prospect Martin Perez, minor leaguer Justin Grimm, swing men Scott Feldman and Alexi Ogando, signed Roy Oswalt and trade for Ryan Dempster to start games. They ended up falling out of top spot in the American League West, settling for the Wild Card and losing the one-game playoff to the Baltimore Orioles. There were other factors involved as well, don’t get me wrong, but even the pitching depth they had – as unspectacular as it was – is better than what the Nats have now.
That is the worst case scenario, obviously. However, that’s the thing about worst case scenarios. Sometimes they become reality.
Edit: One other name that can be used in the organization is Non-Roster invite Ross Ohlendorf. He started nine games for the San Diego Padres last year. It is depth guys like that who can make a difference should injuries hit.