Washington Nationals: Pitchers must not be pushed in September

MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 01: Max Scherzer
MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 01: Max Scherzer /

Now that the Washington Nationals have clinched a playoff spot, there is no reason to push the starting pitchers.

The Washington Nationals‘ starting pitchers are among the most-used bunch in the league. Gio Gonzalez has thrown the most pitches in the National League, with Tanner Roark, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg rounding out the top 25.

For much of the first half, the Nats’ bullpen was dreadful and found a way to blow nearly every lead they were tasked with preserving. Because of this, Dusty Baker felt the need to push the starters to their limits and avoid the bullpen as much as possible.

While the Nats’ starters have all been used more than most other pitchers, they were on pace to throw even more than they have at the All-Star Break. At the break, Scherzer, Gonzalez, Strasburg, and Roark were all in the top ten for pitches thrown among National League pitchers.

The Nats’ starters have slowed down a bit since then, partially because of the current state of the bullpen. The Nats acquired Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, and Sean Doolittle in July, and the three have made an enormous impact.

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With the new-look bullpen, Dusty Baker is able to trust that he can remove his starters with a lead and win most games. Because of this, the Nats have been less reliant on their starting rotation and aren’t forced to overuse them anymore.

Now that the Nats have clinched a playoff spot, there is absolutely no reason to push the starters. The Nats could lose every game throughout the rest of September and would still be in the postseason.

Pitching and defense win games in the playoffs and the Nats have one of the best rotations in the league, but each pitcher only has so many pitches in their arm every year. With the Nats’ rotation’s heavy workload, they are all getting tired as each start passes.

If the starters are going to be as fresh as possible come October, they cannot be overused over the next few weeks. There is no excuse to overuse starters at this point.

Each start, the Nats should aim for no more than 100 pitches. While this is standard procedure for most teams nowadays, Nats pitchers have thrown as many as 120 pitches on occasion this season.

While pitch counts are a big part of deciding when to remove a pitcher, stressful situations should also be considered. If a starter throws 90 pitches, but he has a few abnormally stressful innings, he should probably be removed soon.

The Nats realized that they have overworked their starters to an extent this season and planned to go with a six-man rotation in September, but Erick Fedde had to be shut down with a flexor strain.

A.J. Cole is also on the roster and is naturally a starter, so he could join the rotation to give the regular starters extra rest, but he has been primarily working out of the bullpen lately. If this continues, it appears the Nats will go with a standard five-man rotation for the remainder of the season.

Another factor that makes it easy to not push the starters is the fact that rosters are expanded in September. With the expanded rosters, the Nats currently have 12 relievers, as opposed to the standard seven-man bullpen. Even if the bullpen is heavily used one night, there should be plenty of rested relievers for the next night.

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Dusty Baker has a history of overusing pitchers, and the Nats’ starters are among the most used in the league this season. The Nats need them to be at full-strength for the postseason, so they must be used conservatively throughout the remainder of the season. At full-strength, this rotation is capable of carrying the team and leading them on a deep postseason run.