Washington Nationals: Starters need to step up to rest the bullpen

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CINCINNATI, OH - MARCH 31: Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals gets a visit from pitching coach Derek Lilliquist in the sixth inning of the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on March 31, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Nationals won 13-7. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - MARCH 31: Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals gets a visit from pitching coach Derek Lilliquist in the sixth inning of the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on March 31, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Nationals won 13-7. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /
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The Washington Nationals bullpen has been on the mound far too often, primarily due to the fact the starting rotation can’t make it deep into games.

With the second half of the season looming, the Washington Nationals find themselves in an unlikely spot. They sit third in a division that has the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies cruising towards a playoff push.

After a torrid month of May, winning 20 of 27 games, the Nats found themselves in a perfect spot to take control and remain on top. But then, the offense suddenly went quiet, not getting the timely hits with runners in scoring position, and the pitchers certainly not helping their cases.

Starting with Steven Strasburg, who hit the disabled list after suffering a right shoulder inflammation, is proving costly since the rest of the starting rotation isn’t stepping up.

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Max Scherzer has been the most consistent pitcher on the staff, despite having a 2-4 record in his last 7 games. He’s largely been victim to poor run support, which is a whole different story in itself.

Eric Fedde has been pitching consistently but high pitch counts have contributed to short outings thus causing manager Davey Martinez to call to the bullpen.

With Fedde now on the DL, there’s more pressure on Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez to right this ship. Exactly the opposite is happening.

In his last seven games, Gonzalez has gone 3-4 with an ERA of 8.03. His lack of command has allowed batters to reach base via walks, with 19 walks in that span, which runs the pitch count up.

He has given up 39 hits in that time, and most of them coming after batters have walked. But he tends to walk the tightrope to get out of innings to keep the games close.

Roark hasn’t been his old self all season long. In his last seven games, he owns a record on 1-5 with an ERA of 7.24 and in that span, has given up 54 hits. The right-hander has been one not to keep games close and hasn’t gone all that deep in his outings.

Roark, Gonzalez, and Fedde have pitched six innings or less a total of 17 times. Scherzer alone has pitched into the seventh inning all but twice in his last seven games.

The reason why this matters is that the bullpen clearly needs some help. Starters haven’t been pitching deep into games due to high pitch counts and allowing to score which leads to the bullpen to take care of a large bulk of innings, notably rising to their expectations and not allowing runs to score.

Matt Grace has arguably been the best arm out of the bullpen giving up not one, but two runs in his last seven and only pitching 9.4 innings, and he’s been pitching effectively since the start of June, but clearly called on quite a bit so he needs some rest.

Ryan Madson has been very inconsistent lately, giving up five earned runs in his last seven appearances. That’s an ERA of 8.04, so he clearly needs rest.

Brandon Kinzler is even lucky if he gets a day off, pitching eight games since July 1st. Although he’s only given up two runs, the lack of days off can result in some iffy command of his pitches.

Next: Five potential starting rotation targets

The Washington Nationals are looking for consistency from their starting pitchers. And once they start getting more quality longer starts then the hit and runs will come.

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