Just seven games into the 2020 season, the Washington Nationals weekend series with the Miami Marlins has been canceled due to 20 members of the Marlins’ organization testing positive for the coronavirus. After dropping two out of three to the New York Yankees, the Nationals stormed back to split a four-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays. In an odd 2020 season, the Blue Jays played host to the Nationals at Nationals Park for two games to limit travel back to Buffalo.
There have been many positives for the Nationals early in the season as the bullpen looks like the best bullpen they have had since 2016. Top prospect Carter Kieboom also looks much improved after a rough 2019 campaign, as his approach at the plate has led to three walks in just 12 plate appearances and a four for nine clip at the plate with a nice opposite field base hit against the Blue Jays.
The Nationals have been short-handed for the first week of the season as Juan Soto tested positive for the coronavirus and World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg missed his first two starts with a nerve issue in his wrist. In his spot, Erick Fedde filled in and the Nationals were 2-0 in games he started. Starting pitching has been a staple of the Nationals for the past decade, and that theme has continued into this season. Here are the grades for all five starting pitchers one week into the season.
Washington Nationals Starting Pitching Grades
Max Scherzer: A-
Stats: 0-1, 2.84 ERA, 12.2 IP, 21 Ks, 7 BB
Max Scherzer has anchored the rotation since he signed with the Nationals in 2015. Scherzer was the opening day starter against the Yankees on July 23rd. Early in the game, he seemed over-amped as he typically is in big games. His command seemed off as he was pulling many of his fastballs glove slide which led to four walks. Giancarlo Stanton went deep against Scherzer in the first inning and hit an opposite-field single later in the game with the bases loaded. Despite the 11 strikeouts, Scherzer seemed off throughout the game with his fastball but his slider looked excellent with late movement. Scherzer was tagged with the complete game loss as the game was called due to rain in the fifth inning.
After the rough opening day start, Scherzer looked like himself against the Blue Jays as he threw 112 pitches in 7.1 innings. He got off to a strong start with solid command of his fastball and his offspeed was excellent as usual. Retiring 13 straight heading into the eighth, Scherzer ran into trouble in the eighth with an error, walk, and a single. Daniel Hudson came in and induced a 6-4-3 double plays with a superb play from Trea Turner to end the inning.
Max Scherzer looks poised to be in the Cy Young conversation in 2020 season as he rebounded from a rough opening-day start and looked like the Max Scherzer Nationals fans have known for five seasons.
Erick Fedde: B-
Stats: 0-0, 3.68 ERA, 7.1 IP, 3 Ks, 3 BBs
After Stephen Strasburg was scratched the day of his start, Erick Fedde stepped in as the spot starter after losing the fifth starter battle to Austin Voth. Fedde has pitched solid, but his starts followed similar trends in his previous few seasons. In his first start in against the Yankees, Fedde pitched admirably around four errors in the first three innings by inducing an inning-ending double in the first inning after two errors and allowing an unearned run in the third. In the fourth inning, Fedde fell into some trouble after allowing a moonshot home run to Stanton. Then, Fedde issued a walk to load the bases, but got out of it with a groundball by DJ LeMahieu.
In his second start of the season, Fedde gave up a run in the first after a bloop single by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Again, he fell into trouble in the fourth after allowing a home run to Teoscar Hernandez, who had four home runs in the series, and a single by Joe Panik followed by a walk. Despite an ERA of 3.68, Fedde had a FIP of 7.05, which is evident by his 1.77 WHIP.
Fedde pitched solid while filling in for Stephen Strasburg as a spot starter. However, he continued to hit a wall in the fourth inning of his starts. This could be due to fatigue caused by shuffling between the rotation and the bullpen. Because of this, he seems like a very good fit in the bullpen, where he should move back after Strasburg returns.
Patrick Corbin: A+
Stats: 0-0, 1.42 ERA, 6.1 IP, 8 Ks, 0 BBs
In his lone start of 2020, Patrick Corbin was marvelous. He went 6.1 innings against the Yankees allowing just one run and struck out eight. Corbin had no-hit stuff as he retired the first 11 batters and struck out five of them. Gleyber Torres had the Yankees first hit of the game with a single in the fourth inning. Throughout the game, Corbin’s slider was almost unhittable as he balanced that with excellent fastball command. Through six innings, Corbin had retired 18 out 19 batters in just 67 pitches. However, Torres took Corbin deep in the seventh, ending his day on the mound.
After being the winning pitcher in Game Seven of the World Series in relief, Corbin continued his 2019 success into his first start of the new season.
Anibal Sanchez: C
Stats: 0-1, 7.20 ERA, 5.1 IP, 7 Ks, 1 BB
Coming off a very good 2019 season where he rebounded from an 0-6 start, Anibal Sanchez surrendered four home runs against the Blue Jays, two of which were to Teoscar Hernandez. Like Scherzer, Sanchez was up in the zone a lot with his fastball. Because of this, Sanchez gave up four home runs despite striking out seven. Sanchez can’t get away with a breaking pitch or fastball up in the zone like Max Scherzer due to his low 90s fastball and softer breaking pitches. However, this shouldn’t be time to panic for Nationals fans as Sanchez is still building up to a regular pitching schedule. He got off to a slow start last year and finished the season with a solid 3.42 ERA in his last 21 starts.
Austin Voth: B
Stats: 0-1, 3.60 ERA, 5 IP, 2 Ks, 0 BB
After an impressive 2019 campaign where he had a 3.30 ERA in eight starts, Voth had a solid start against the Blue Jays as he allowed two earned (three total) runs in five innings. Just like Sanchez, Voth fell victim to the home run ball as he left a hanging slider to Vladamir Guerrero Jr. and a fastball that ran back over the plate to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. The Blue Jays made the Nationals pay for a Starlin Castro error by plating a run in the fifth. Other than those two mistakes, Voth kept the Nationals in the game and went five innings which may have been his limit as he is still building up his pitches. One of Voth’s struggles in his opening day start was his offspeed pitches as he didn’t generate the swings and misses as he was in spring training.
Despite missing Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals’ starting pitching performed well with excellent outings from Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin, and solid outings from Erick Fedde and Austin Voth. Even though Sanchez struggled, he should be much better next time through the rotation with one start under his belt. As Strasburg returns in the near future, Fedde will move back to the bullpen and Voth will remain the fifth starter. With a lineup that may not be as strong as recent years, the Nationals starting pitching must continue to keep the Nationals in games with the help of the bullpen, which is off to an excellent start.
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