Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jordan Zimmermann will be counted on to anchor the 2011 rotation.
That momentum — three wins in four days against the Cardinals — came just as everyone learned Stephen Strasburg would need Tommy John surgery and miss the next 12-to-18 months. The common reaction to the Strasburg news, of course, was that the 2011 season has probably been flushed down the toilet before the 2010 season has even concluded.
Obviously, the lack of Strasburg atop the Nationals' 2011 rotation will be damaging. But maybe it won't be completely crushing for a club that is starting to realize it has some rotation depth for the first time in a long time.
Four significant developments not involving Strasburg happened in the Nats' rotation last week, and each was a positive development.
1. Jason Marquis authored his best performance of the season, allowing one run to the Cubs over 7 1/3 innings. This came on the heels of a solid start in Philadelphia.
2. Jordan Zimmermann made his return from Tommy John surgery, and while the results five runs in four innings weren't so great, the mere fact he was back on the mound throwing 94 mph without pain was a positive development in itself.
3. John Lannan put together another top-notch start, allowing one run in 7 2/3 innings to improve to 4-1 with a 3.25 ERA since his return from Class AA Harrisburg.
4. Livan Hernandez signed a one-year contract extension, ensuring he'll be back next season (perhaps as the Opening Day starter).
Don't look now, but the Nationals' 2011 rotation is nearly set already. Sure, there are still plenty of questions about this group. Can Marquis sustain what he's done his last two starts, or will he revert to the embarrasingly poor form he displayed prior to this point? Even if he's healthy, will Zimmermann develop into the successful, power right-hander everyone has always believed he would? Is Lannan's strong run over the last month proof he's back to his top form, or has this been a mirage. And can Hernandez put together another season like this one, churning out innings and maintaining a sub-3.50 ERA?
Those questions, though, look less daunting than the ones we might have been asking only a few weeks ago. Based on what we've seen lately, these four starters look capable of at least giving the Nationals a chance to win on a nightly basis.
There's still another slot to fill, but there are no shortage of options. Yunesky Maya will be in the mix. So will Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen. Scott Olsen could be, though the Nats may elect to non-tender the inconsistent lefty this winter and not take a chance going to arbitration with him. And, of course, guys like Luis Atilano and J.D. Martin will be back healthy after having their seasons cut short due to injury.
Is that a championship-caliber rotation? No, not without Strasburg at the top. But it's certainly a stronger-looking rotation than the Nats have had entering a season since ... well, maybe since the team arrived in town. The days of wide-open spring competitions appear to be over.
You wouldn't think Strasburg's impending Tommy John surgery could lead to good news. But the events of the last week suggest the Nationals may be able to withstand this seemingly crushing blow after all.