Friday, August 27, 2010

With Strasburg Done, Who Becomes Number 1?

As everyone on the planet now knows, Stephen Strasburg's rookie year came to an abrupt end on Friday, when it was announced that the phenom would require Tommy John surgery to replace a "significant" ulnar collateral ligament tear in his right elbow, according to Nats GM Mike Rizzo. Strasburg will likely miss most, if not all, of 2011 as well.

According to's Bill Ladson, Strasburg knew Thursday night of the surgery, but didn't want to ruin Bryce Harper's welcome party to Nationals Park. Ironically, Thursday was also RHP Jordan Zimmermann's return to the 25 man roster from 13 months off. He was recovering from an ulnar collateral ligament tear... and the resulting Tommy John surgery. Gain one frontline young starter, lose one the same day. The Nationals just can't seem to catch a break.

So now with Strasburg done for the foreseeable and distant future, let's jump way, way ahead. Who starts Opening Day 2011?

Strasburg was the obvious choice. He would have guaranteed a sellout, would have all but guaranteed a good outing, and given the chance for the Nats to win on Opening Day. But now, who do the Nats call? Here are my thoughts, in order of plausibility, of people already in the organization.

  1. Jordan Zimmermann - Although JZimm's outing on Thursday was lackluster (he gave up Albert Pujols' 400th career homer, pitched just 4 innings, and gave up 5 earned runs), he's still the future #2 starter for the organization. Stands to reason, if the #1 guy is hurt, he should be bumped up. He still throws in the mid-90s and has a killer breaking ball and change up. He has time to prepare for this role over the next few weeks and during the offseason.
  2. Jason Marquis - Marquis was brought on to be a solid #3 guy to eat innings. We all know how that turned out. In each of his last two starts, though, Marquis has given up just 1 run on 4 hits. He's yet to nail a win, but he's also yet to get any form of run support since his return. He's a proven All-Star, and could be getting back to form. He's not out of the question as a "let's have a veteran start the season" move.
  3. Livan Hernandez - Livan has to be last on this list, mostly because he's not under contract for next season. The Nats picked him up for a scant $900,000 as a Spring Training invitee this season, and he's been simply brilliant. The Nats have lost his last 4 starts, but in 3 of those 4 games, Livan didn't get more than 2 runs of support. In one, the Nats were shut out. But Livo still sports a 3.36 ERA, and despite a misleading 8-9 record, he has a legitimate possibility to recreate Opening Day 2005 and be on the mound for the Nats to start 2011.

As a brief aside, I find myself continuing to question the Nationals training staff in their inability to keep players healthy. The Strasburg injury was probably 22 years in the works. You can only throw that hard for so long before something explodes. But the revolving door of injured pitchers in the organization is simply staggering, and I feel uncommon in the era of modern medicine.

But I digress. The 3 pitchers listed above are all solid guys and quality pitchers when they're having their best days. One thing is for sure, none of them even approach the excitement of Strasburg, and it will be interesting to see how the Nationals recover financially with no Strasburg attendance boosts next year. NatsTown 2011 will look very different than anyone would have thought.


  1. "NatsTown 2011 will look very different than anyone would have thought."

    Yup...whenever the horrible Phillies fans aren't there its going to resemble an old west ghost town.

  2. Based on today's outing, why not keep the tradition and have Lannan start 2011?

  3. Anon - Because Nationals tradition with Lannan starting Opening Day is losing seasons. With Livo back, why not start him Opening Day. The Nats only .500 season started with Livo on the mound.