Share

Phil Wood: Nationals pitch through injuries

|
Sports,MLB,Nationals,Phil Wood
The loss of 2011 team Triple Crown champion Michael Morse for six -- and probably closer to eight -- weeks appears to place the Washington Nationals in an offensive hole. Morse's breakout season last year played a huge role in the club's near-.500 finish. With some healthy hitters around him this year, a better outcome seemed inevitable.

The season's first week may reflect what awaits Morse when he finally does return to the everyday lineup.

Entering Saturday, Washington pitchers had a 1.92 ERA, the best in the major leagues. They were second in strikeouts with 79, two fewer than the Dodgers. There's nothing fluky about it -- they're throwing strikes and getting people out.

Both losses after eight games were by a single run. Both games were quite winnable with a key hit that never came.

Offensively, the Nationals hit .241 over the first eight games. That puts them 17th in the majors, 10 spots better than they finished in 2011. Both Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa were hitting below .200, but Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche look like All-Stars -- so far, anyway.

After LaRoche struck out three times Opening Day in Chicago, many fans proclaimed his demise, insisting the Nats needed to cut ties with the veteran immediately. Following an off-day, LaRoche returned with the type of swings usually seen much later in the season for LaRoche. His 2011 season ended on May 21, but perhaps this is what LaRoche would have played like last year had he been able to play into the summer months.

Desmond's start has been the biggest energizer for the offense. He's not the prototypical leadoff hitter, but how many of those guys are really out there? He's almost a cinch to swing at the first pitch he sees -- not exactly desirable in a leadoff man -- but is putting the ball in play the same way he did over the final 40 games last year. He has the manager's confidence, and that may be enough.

While the Nationals await the return of Morse, they're also awaiting the arrival of Bryce Harper. But it's not the 19-year-old Harper who's breaking out in upstate New York so far. It's first baseman Tyler Moore. Moore, a 25-year-old right-handed power bat, is off to a scorching start with the bat. He's simply repeating what he did at Single-A and Double-A ball. It's uncertain where Moore sits in the Nats' prospect pecking order, but he can definitely lash.

We're seeing Washington's best baseball start in 60 years. It's safe to say they won't play .750 baseball all year, but their pitching depth and even slightly better hitting should be enough to move them into that .530-.550 range by October, and that's near-playoff caliber.

Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at philwood@washingtonexaminer.com.

View article comments Leave a comment