Injury-free rotation gives Nationals a leg up on Dodgers

|
Sports,MLB,Nationals,Kevin Dunleavy

Injury-free rotation gives Nats advantage

Until Tuesday afternoon, the Los Angeles Dodgers weren't sure who would start their series finale against the Nationals -- Zack Greinke or Matt Magill.

Uncertainty has been a constant this season for the Dodgers, who used nine different starting pitchers in their first 23 games. By contrast, the Nationals haven't had a starting pitcher miss a turn since 2011.

The only disturbances to the rotation of the Nats last year were a brief fling with Chien-Ming Wang, who replaced Ross Detwiler for four starts, and the September shut-down of Stephen Strasburg. This season, the rotation has remained intact from Opening Day.

According to Washington pitching coach Steve McCatty, there hasn't been a pitcher who has been even close to missing a start since Opening Day last year.

"Never even been a topic of discussion," McCatty said. "[Manager] Davey [Johnson] does a great job by monitoring the pitchers, what they've done the last time, how much he thinks those were stressful pitches."

Age also has been a factor. None of the Nationals' four rotation constants -- Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Strasburg and Detwiler -- is older than 27. In contrast, four of the five Dodgers starters who have visited the disabled list -- Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Chris Capuano and Greinke -- are 28 or older.

Los Angeles was so flush with experienced pitching that it dealt one of its most reliable 2012 starters, Aaron Harang, on April 6. Five days later, the Dodgers were ruing the move. In a dugout-clearing scrum in San Diego, Greinke (broken collarbone) and Capuano (strained calf) were hurt. Capuano's injury came as he ran from the bullpen to join the fracas.

The 28-year-old Billingsley opened the year on the DL with a bruised finger. After elbow discomfort in three starts, he underwent Tommy John surgery. Aware of the fragile condition of Billingsley, Los Angeles had put right-hander Stephen Fife on the same calendar at Triple-A Albuquerque. But in his first start with the Dodgers, Fife developed shoulder bursitis and joined the crowd on the DL. Enter the 23-year-old Magill, who had not pitched beyond Double-A before this season.

"He's going to start this one if he makes it until then," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly joked of Fife's major league debut last month. "Let's wait and see."

With the Dodgers in last place in the National League West, compounding the pitching woes for Mattingly is Beckett (0-5, 5.19 ERA). The 33-year-old is off to the worst start in his 132-win career. Battling a groin injury on Monday night, Beckett lasted only three innings in a 6-1 loss to the Nats and could become the sixth Dodgers starter to go to the DL in five weeks.

It's all foreign territory for the Nats, who will start Detwiler on Wednesday night, and their pitching coach, who said he never missed a start from 1979-82 as a pitcher for the Oakland A's.

"We've really been fortunate," McCatty said. "We've really tried to do a good job at limiting how many pitches they're gonna throw."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment