The Washington Nationals looked to be one of the the favorites in the National League East going into 2014. The team was good enough to earn a wild card position last season and have much the same team, if not improved with the addition of right-handed pitcher Doug Fister and new manager Matt Williams.
With an injured Braves pitching staff before the season started, a still young and inexperienced Marlins organization, an aging team in Philadelphia, and the Mets without ace Matt Harvey, the Nationals positioned themselves early as real contenders to win the division. With that said, they went into the season with a healthy roster, but the first two weeks have proven to be challenging for Washington especially from a health standpoint.
They lost Fister before Opening Day with a muscle strain in his back. However, the team expects him to begin throwing off of the mound this week. That is good news for the team, but their most recent injuries could be far more detrimental to their early season sucsess.
Catcher Wilson Ramos learned that he needed surgery to remove a hamate bone from his left hand just two days into the season. The surgery will sideline the Nationals defensive-minded catcher for a month to six weeks. This is the latest injury for Ramos, who missed two months in 2012 with a knee injury and only played 78 games last season because of a nagging hamstring injury.
“It’s very hard to go to your bed and think three years in a row getting hurt,” said Ramos. “Three years in a row on the DL. I just put everything in God’s hands. Everything happens for one reason. I have to wait. I have to wait and see what happens. Hopefully that was the last one.”
After sweeping the Mets in New York and the Marlins at home, the team dropped five of six games to division rivals Atlanta.
In the course of the two series against the Btaves, the team lost Scott Hariston to an oblique injury, center fielder Denard Span has been sidelined a week with concussion symptoms, second baseman and utility man Jeff Kobernus went to the 60-day disabled list with a fractured left hand, and Saturday night the team learned that their leader Ryan Zimmerman injured his thumb while sliding into second base in another loss to the Braves. The latest injury will keep Zimmerman out four to six weeks, but the injury does not seem to be stressing out new manager Matt Williams.
“It is what it is. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us,” Williams said. “You’ve got to play.”
Prior to the injury, Zimmerman was batting .364 with 12 hits and six RBI. The team will need to make up for his production at the plate, but will miss leadership more than anything and the injury more disrupts the consistency of the roster more than anything. In lieu of Zimmerman in the lineup Saturday, the team moved Anthony Rendon from second to third and the team is likely to use Danny Espinosa more at third base. With Span out for a few more days and outfielder Jayson Werth dealing with a groin injury, manager Matt Williams moved Bryce Harper to center, Nate McLouth to right, and Kevin Frandsen to left.
“It’s not our first choice, certainly, but the fact they can play multiple positions is good in times like this,” Williams said.
The team has also seen a bit of rust with their starting pitching, most evident in their ace Stephen Strasburg. In three starts this season, he has given up eight earned runs to go with 16 hits and a 4.24 ERA in 17 innings pitched. Jordan Zimmermann has pitched in only 6.2 innings, but already has an 8.10 ERA and surrendered six earned runs and 11 hits.
The one bright spot for the Nationals pitching staff has been Gio Gonzalez. In two starts this season, the left hander is 2-0 with 11 strikeouts and only one earned run. It’s unlikely that Zimmermann and Strasburg will continue to under perform, but the team needs them to make a quick turnaround while some of their predominant offensive weapons are out of action.
I picked the Nationals to win the wild card this season and eventually make the World Series. Even with this string of injuries in the early goings of the season, I still believe they will not only make the playoffs, but have a great opportunity to win the division. None of their injuries have been substantial to call the season a bust and I don’t see the Braves being able to continue their success for the long haul, especially if they are without Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy for the rest of the season.
It is, however, time for the Nationals to string together some victories, even in the absence of one their best players. The starting rotation will start to find their groove, Ryan Zimmerman will return from his injury, the rest of the team will get healthy, and the Nationals will be serious contenders come October.