An Organizational Slump

From top to bottom the Washington Nationals organization is slumping. The offense is OPSing a collective .656 better than only the Marlins, the manager continues to put useless offensive player after useless offensive player in the two-hole, one of the most important parts of the line-up, and the general manager is now calling up useless relievers just in case Stephen Strasburg fails to go four innings. That last one is the most puzzling. The general manager of the Nationals is betting against his Ace starting pitcher.  

The move to bring up Maya as the eighth reliever makes some sense with every other reliever except the recently called-up Abad, Storen, Clippard, and Soriano available if a lesser pitcher known to struggle for five innings were on the mound, but they aren't. Stephen Strasburg is pitching tonight and so far this season he has averaged 6.33 innings a start and has failed to get through the fifth innings twice. Now if he goes six and the Nats use Clippard, Storen, and Soriano to finish out the game they then have Gio Gonzalez on the mound tomorrow. Both Strasburg and Gio are fully capable of giving the Nationals seven strong innings and good major league relievers, like Storen, Clippard, and Soriano are, should be able to pitch two days in a row. Thursday is then an off day followed by Jordan Zimmermann who is averaging over seven innings a start. If the Nats want to rest the bullpen then let Strasburg and Gio pitch, followed by an off-day, and then have Jordan Zimmermann go on Friday.  

To make this all more puzzling the Nationals already announced that Ross Detwiler needs to miss no more time and even if he did the Nats could use the off day on Thursday to have Strasburg pitch Sunday on normal rest. Which brings us back to the point that the only reason to bring Maya up is if Mike Rizzo lacks confidence in Stephen Strasburg and doesn't believe he will pitch deep in his next start. I am no GM but I would think asking your Ace to save the bullpen isn't too uncommon, especially when that Ace is followed by another Ace and then an off day followed by a third Ace. There is even a strong chance that the Nats won't use any more than two relievers between now and Saturday, and then the bullpen isn't just rested it is rusty.  

This brings us to another issue. The Nationals starting pitchers in total are averaging over six innings a start. Meaning that they are using an average of three relievers a night. That sounds like a well-rested bullpen to me, and the Nats have recently had trouble getting their sixth and seventh relievers work. With the Nats bench not performing and guys like Jeff Kobernus and Chris Marrero tearing up the minors and the ability to use Eury Perez as a pinch runner the Nats would be better suited to drop the seventh reliever instead of adding an eighth and carry an extra bench bat. The Nats bench this season has hit .175/.233/.250. Those numbers don't need to be put in context to know that they are awful.

Worse than the bench not performing, is the manager not performing. One of the reasons the bullpen is tired is that Davey Johnson has been handed one reliever he refuses to use and another he shouldn't use. If Davey Johnson has no faith in Henry Rodriguez and won't utilize the roster that Mike Rizzo gave him then either Rodriguez or Davey needs to go. The other hunk of dead weight in the bullpen is Zach Duke who after pitching 3 1/3 innings and giving up 4 runs in a spot start against the Giants now boasts a 8.84 ERA. Zach Duke has been worse and given more opportunity than Brad Lidge. The reason he is still on this roster while pitchers like Erik Davis and Ian Krol are performing in the minors is beyond my comprehension.

Aside from poor bullpen usage Davey Johnson is failing at the most basic job of a manager. Every day he writes in a player with an under .300 OBP into the two-hole while leaving a player with .336 OBP batting eighth. That isn't exactly the OBP a team wants from the two spot in the line-up, but Kurt Suzuki is a lot better choice as a number two hitter than Steve Lombardozzi, and even if Johnson doesn't want to give up on the catcher batting eighth he can simply shift Lombo, or whoever is at second that day, to the seventh-hole and slide everyone else in the batting order up. Good batting orders make it difficult for opposing pitchers and right now the Nats batting order is making it too easy. There is a gaping hole batting second in the order and coming to the plate far too often during games. For a comparison the number two hitter for the Nats comes to the plate is averaging over 4 plate appearances a game and the number seven hitter under 4. That is too many opportunities wasted on hitters hitting a collective .187/.224/.291.

The Nats are having a disappointing season because the players, manager, and front office are all in a collective slump. There is a good reason the Washington Nationals were thought to be the best team in baseball coming into this season, and they need to start acting like it. Good teams don't call up career 5.52 ERA failed starters to pitch out of the bullpen in case their number one starter can't go five. Good teams hand the ball to their Ace, point them towards to opponents, and let them go to work knowing the guys in the bullpen in need of a day off are about to get it.  

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