Even in loss, fifth starters show worth

By Tom Schad | Associate Reporter

Nationals starter Ross Ohlendorf should share the blame for Wednesday night’s loss to the Braves, which all but crushed Washington’s slim playoff hopes. However, he also deserves his share of credit for helping keep the Nationals in the race in the first place.

Without the efforts of Ohlendorf, Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark this season, the Nationals would not be in a last-gasp push for the second Wild Card in the National League.  Together, they have exceeded expectations while filling in for Ross Detwiler, who has been on and off the disabled list with back issues. Ohlendorf, a 31-year-old journeyman, and two rookies have posted a combined 12-4 record and 2.80 ERA this year.

“We knew going in that’s one of the areas we didn’t have a lot of depth,” manager Davey Johnson said. “So hopefully, with Detwiler getting healthy and what these guys have done, and some other arms we’ve got coming, this organization will be in great shape.”

For all their unmet expectations this season, the Nationals’ organizational depth at pitcher has lived up to the hype. First it was Ohlendorf, who debuted an old-school windup in a spot start in Colorado and has provided stability ever since, both as a long reliever and starter. Then it was Jordan, who jumped from Double-A to the Majors in his first season off Tommy John surgery.

Now, Johnson believes that he has found another potential contributor in Roark, who was 6-17 at Triple-A Syracuse last season. On Tuesday night, after Roark’s seventh consecutive win, Johnson compared the right-hander to all-time great Greg Maddux.

“[Minor League pitching coordinator] Spin [Williams] was really high on him this year and all through spring during the year. He certainly has reason to be,” Johnson said of Roark. “Once I saw him pitch up here out of the ‘pen, how he located the ball and used all his pitches, I said, ‘Yeah, he’s going to be good.”

Jordan and Roark both have the potential to earn a long-term role on the Nationals in Spring Training, but they are just two of the many talented arms that will join the rotation in the next couple of years. Stephen Strasburg is only 24. Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Detwiler are 27. Lucas Giolito, A.J. Cole, Nathan Karns, Robbie Ray, Sammy Solis and Jake Johansen are among the many talented arms working their way through the farm system.

Not many teams have that kind of depth at pitcher.

“Great arms,” Johnson said. “Pitching comes fast. They’re all going to be pitching in Double-A or up. When you get them to that level, I think you can come from AA to the big leagues just as easy as coming from AAA.”

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