Mitchell Parker Dazzles In Debut

The Nationals had an ugly streak of rookie pitchers not recording a win in their Major League debut, dating back to Stephen Strasburg's electric 2010 debut. That streak came to a close last night with rookie Mitchell Parker's excellent outing against the high powered Dodgers.
Washington Nationals v Los Angeles Dodgers
Washington Nationals v Los Angeles Dodgers / Harry How/GettyImages

Before the Nationals faced the Dodgers for their series opener at Dodger Stadium, their chances were already looking slim. Facing the Dodgers fearsome lineup under any circumstance is difficult, but after travelling across the country and dropping a series to the underwhelming Oakland A's, the team was especially trending downwards. To make things worse, the Nats had to face Tyler Glasnow, one of MLB's best pitchers, the ace of the mighty Dodgers, who struck out 14 in seven scoreless innings in his previous start. To face Glasnow, the Nationals were relying on Mitchell Parker, in his MLB debut.

Against these heavy odds, the Nationals won, with the rookie starter leading the way. Parker tossed five efficient innings, allowing zero walks, zero home runs, and racking up four strikeouts. He allowed two earned runs on just four hits, but was supported enough by CJ Abrams and the Nats offense to earn his first career win in his first career outing. The numbers aren't extremely eye-popping, but remember, this was against the Dodgers, in Dodger Stadium! It was the first time a Nationals' rookie pitcher won his Major League debut since 2010, when Stephen Strasburg electrified Nationals Park in his debut.

Regardless of where Mitchell Parker goes from here, his electric debut and his team's unlikely victory will be an unforgettable memory. He looked like a fully capable and comfortable MLB starter, fooling superstar hitters, maintaining control and command, and limiting hard contact. He wasn't flawless, but only allowing four baserunners against that lineup is incredible for a rookie. I struggle to imagine Patrick Corbin, Trevor Williams, or Josiah Gray putting up that good of an outing right now.

A quick look at Parker's scouting reports describes a different player than who we saw debuting and dazzling. Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB Pipeline respectively suggest or expect Parker to find a home in the bullpen, for two main reasons. First, his velocity is below average, and in his start of just 81 pitches his fastball slowed down towards the end. He blazed a 96 MPH heater past Mookie Betts in the first inning, which is an insane thing to do against Mookie Betts right now, but ended the night with some dangerous 90-91 MPH pitches over the heart of the plate.

Secondly, Parker relies on two pitches, without a solid third offering. He attempted to use his split-change, throwing it 5 times, but didn't find the strike zone and only induced one swing. His fastball and curveball both were effective and he commanded them well enough, but it is doubtful that Parker can succeed in a starting role with just those two pitches. He would need one of those pitches to develop into an elite offering, generating whiffs and soft contact at an above average rate, to be able to survive with such a limited arsenal. If that doesn't happen, it would be worth experimenting with Parker as a multi-inning relief option, hoping that he can add fastball velocity in a bullpen role.

To add to those two points, concerns about Parker's control have held him back from the top 10 on Nationals prospect lists. In the minor leagues, Parker threw 100+ innings in 2022 and 2023, with his walks per 9 innings being 6.03 in '22 and 4.28 in '23. MLB Pipeline points out that strike throwing has been an emphasis for Parker recently, and with his stellar '23 in the minors plus potentially improved command, he has everything he needs to succeed in the majors.

Going forward, Mitchell Parker certainly has earned a chance to stick in the rotation. If he can produce more outings like his debut, it would be hard to displace him. Right now, Parker is clearly considered to be above Joan Adon, and shares the 6th starter spot with the potential return of Jackson Rutledge in the majors. When Josiah Gray comes back from the injured list, which could likely happen this month, it's unclear what the rotation plan would be.

Barring another injury, Parker seems destined to be optioned back to AAA at some point. While his future may well be in the bullpen, the current Nats bullpen has no real optionable players and Parker deserves more time to improve as a starter at AAA, where he has only played four games. When Cade Cavalli returns from injury, the Nats will need to decide how committed they are to Trevor Williams and Patrick Corbin in the rotation, and Mitchell Parker could benefit from that decision. His stock is absolutely on the rise after an impressive debut, and he will try to continue to impress and solidify a role in the majors.