The Washington Nationals are a good baseball team, potentially a great one. But here are the facts right now:
1. They’re 14-14 with a -19 run differential.
2. They’re 5-1 against the Marlins, 9-13 against everyone else.
3. Their main threat in the National League East, the Atlanta Braves? They’ve beaten them once in six tries, getting outscored 29-10 in the process.
It’s been a rough start, and things could have gotten a whole lot worse if Stephen Strasburg (forearm) and Bryce Harper’s (side) injuries were serious. Thankfully, both franchise cornerstones appear to have dodged a bullet.
Strasburg had his arm declared "structurally perfect" by GM Mike Rizzo on Tuesday, which gave way to a “free and easy” bullpen session on Wednesday. For all we know, Strasburg’s arm may indeed be a ticking time bomb, but at least for now, he’s good to go as the Nats look to get back on track after an uninspiring April.
Harper’s situation is a bit more worrisome. Although the Nats insist he’s dealing with little more than a “bruised side” after crashing into the outfield wall Tuesday, he was certainly running and swinging like a player trying to manage a tender oblique last evening. Why he was allowed to finish a sixth-inning at-bat where he was grimacing every pitch is anyone’s guess, but he was removed before the Nats took the field in the bottom half of the frame.
Harper is day-to-day, but don’t be surprised if the Nats resist his pleas to get back into the lineup and hold him out for 2-3 games, perhaps even until Tuesday against the Tigers. If the Nats think things are bad right now, it would be a horse of an entirely different color if they lost their .337/.427/.705 hitting No. 3 hitter to a stint on the disabled list.
Two More Nats
Strasburg and Harper weren’t the only Nats getting good news on Wednesday. Ryan Zimmerman (hamstring) was cleared to return after his first and only rehab appearance with High-A Potomac, and will be in the lineup on Friday against the Pirates.
The champagne shouldn’t be popped just yet, however. Zimmerman was struggling mightily before going down, hitting just .226/.311/.358 with one home run, four extra-base hits and 11 RBI across 61 plate appearances. His problems at the dish have been compounded — if not exacerbated — by his issues in the field, where his throwing remains a disaster. Zimmerman has committed four errors in just 15 games this season, and graded out poorly in any advanced defensive metric you can find.
Zimmerman’s too good not to start hitting and keep hitting — provided he can stay in the lineup — but it might not be the worst idea to give him 2-3 days to knock the rust off. He should be ready to go for weekly-league lineups by Monday. Top prospect Anthony Rendon will be demoted upon Zim’s return.
Finally, there’s Jayson Werth (ankle), who missed his second straight game Wednesday, but got back a clean MRI. Werth is also dealing with a minor hamstring issue, but could rejoin the lineup as early as this evening. If not, he should be good to go Friday when the Nats begin a three-game set in Pittsburgh.
Brandon McCarthy is hardly the only pitcher to get off to a poor start this season — see Matt Cain, Roy Halladay, etc. — but unlike Cain and Halladay, he’s yet to even turn in a quality start. McCarthy made it 6-for-6 in non-quality outings Wednesday, allowing four runs, eight hits and two home runs across his six innings of work.
McCarthy served up a leadoff homer to Angel Pagan before appearing to settle down, tossing three scoreless innings. Then he allowed two runs in the fifth and a solo bomb to Hunter Pence in the sixth, ruining what was on pace to be easily his best start of the season.
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly has gone wrong for the 29-year-old righty. His K/BB ratio remains acceptable (24/5 through 33 2/3 frames), while his velocity has held steady. His BABIP was an outrageous .396 heading into Wednesday’s outing, suggesting the rough start might be little more than a case of small-sample mambo. Whatever it is, it would be helpful if McCarthy could figure it out before Tuesday, where he’ll head to Dodger Stadium to face a lineup that’s close to full strength following the return of Hanley Ramirez.
American League Short Hops: Brett Anderson (ankle) landed on the disabled list. He could return when first eligible on May 14. … Anderson’s teammate Coco Crisp (hamstring) is also headed to the D.L. A timetable for his return has yet to be established. … An MRI of R.A. Dickey’s neck and back came back negative. He’s been diagnosed with “mild inflammation,” and remains on track to start against the Mariners on Saturday. … Dickey’s teammate Josh Johnson (triceps) will take his scheduled Friday turn against the M’s. … Matt Harrison was forced to undergo his second back operation since April 23 after experiencing a setback. He’ll be out “at least” three months, and could be done for the season. … Mark Teixeira (wrist) took batting practice in the cages at Yankee Stadium after previously being limited to dry swings. It’s an important step, but Tex will still be up against it to return before June 1. … FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal — perhaps the best reporter in the business — believes Baltimore’s Kevin Gausman "might not be in the minors much longer." It’s a situation to monitor in AL-only leagues and deeper mixed formats. … Nick Swisher (shoulder) is day-to-day after missing his second straight game Wednesday.
National League Short Hops: Troy Tulowitzki returned to the lineup after a two-game absence, going 2-for-4 with a double, walk and two RBI. Crisis averted. … Carl Crawford (hamstring) is day-to-day. He’ll likely return on Friday against the Giants. … Matt Garza (lat, arm) reported no issues after recording eight outs in his first rehab outing for Double-A Tennessee, but is expected to make at least three more starts before rejoining the Cubs. … Mark Ellis (quad) is headed to the disabled list. Dodgers fans, we hope you like Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker.
Game Notes: Jordan Zimmermann dominated the Braves, upping his scoreless-innings streak to 18 innings. … Scott Feldman mowed down the Padres in a complete-game victory, striking out a career-high 12. … Clay Buchholz moved to 6-0, lowering his ERA to 1.01 through 44 2/3 innings in the process. … Mike Napoli smashed a pair of homers, plating four. … Lance Lynn became the National League’s first five-game winner. … Trevor Bauer issued six walks in five innings. That’s now 26 walks in 26 1/3 MLB frames for the would-be top prospect. … Carlos Beltran and Robinson Cano stayed hot.