I thought that after the season started there would have been at least some visible evidence that would add some optimism to the Nationals’ season.
But two games deep into the season, the picture is pretty murky.
The Nats are 0-2 following a pair of lopsided losses to the Marlins, a team picked by some to finish below the Nationals in the National League East. Washington’s top two starting pitchers were smacked around like a Jack Bauer detainee in the first two games, giving up a combined 14 runs with neither John Lannan nor Scott Olsen making it into the fourth inning. There are summer interns pitching in the congressional softball league that are more effective than that.
Meanwhile, Emilio Bonifacio, who was dealt to the Marlins for Olsen and Josh Willingham over the offseason, has mashed Nats pitching to the tune of 6-for-10 and four RBI, including an inside-the-park home run. The lightning-quick infielder also scored four runs and stole three bases.
The good news is that it’s early. Very early. Olsen still has plenty of time to improve upon his 24.00 ERA, and the Nationals, well, there’s still some hope. Fans are just going to have to be patient.
No one wants to hear those words anymore. Not after Washington saved this team from wasting away in Montreal in 2005, built it a brand new stadium and then watched it get worse every season.
But this year, the lineup should be better. Far better actually. Cristian Guzman has picked up where he left off, setting the table for the meat of the Nationals’ order that’s already showing promise. Free agent signee Adam Dunn started his Nationals’ career with a 2-for-4 performance, blasting a home run and nearly adding a second. Austin Kearns may be experiencing a bit of a renaissance this spring, wrestling a starting spot away from Elijah Dukes.
On the mound, ESPN’s Buster Olney tabbed Jordan Zimmerman as his pick for National League rookie of the year. Earlier named the top prospect in the Nationals’ organization by ESPN scout and analyst Keith Law, Zimmerman earned a spot in the rotation after posting a 3.14 ERA this spring and striking out 20 against just two walks. That’s a 10-1 strikeout to walk ratio. That’s ridiculous. Obviously that’s inflated in the spring. In Florida, Zimmerman faced a slew of career minor leaguers and young prospects mixed with the veterans and stars he’ll see in the regular season. But the encouraging sign is his pinpoint control. He is pounding the strike zone and seeing immediate results. Hopefully, the Nationals will too. And Zimmerman might be getting some help early this summer.
In June, Washington has the chance to select one of the best pitching prospects baseball has ever seen in Stephen Strasburg. Just about every scout has said the minor leagues would do nothing to improve Strasburg’s game, meaning he, and his 100-mph fastball should be in Washington by the end of the season. That is, if the Nationals actually draft and sign the phenom.
Strasburg is represented by Scott Boras. Adored by his clients, feared by owners, Boras knows exactly what he has in Strasburg — a once-in-a-lifetime talent that could bring the biggest payday for any draft pick in history. Boras is going to try to cash in on this kid, then go buy something pretty for himself with the spoils — like Italy. Boras is going to demand the world, and, within reason, the Nationals should give it to him.
I know the reasoning behind restraint, but this is the fortune that cruel fate has owed Washington baseball for quite sometime. But in the meantime, someone needs to clue in this pitching staff that they already have the No. 1 pick locked up. Seriously, they can stop serving up batting practice.
Any time now.
Mike Hume may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.