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Who Starts on Sunday, Sans Strasburg, For Nationals?

For the first time since Stephen Strasburg was placed back on the IL, the Nationals must turn to their No. 5 starting pitcher.

There’s just one problem: They don’t currently have a fifth starter on their active roster.

They’ll be forced to trot someone out to start Sunday’s game in Philadelphia, but who it will be remains a mystery. There was a thought that it could be Erick Fedde, who’s currently on the IL, but is in the midst of a rehab assignment. He was slated to start on Thursday and Friday for Wilmington (High-A), but both games were postponed due to rain. Rather than forgoing the rehab appearance, the Nationals chose to let him pitch today in the minor leagues, opting to allow someone else to get the Sunday big league start.

This won’t be an easy decision. There aren’t any great options, and it’s difficult to even narrow the field down to two or three pitchers. There are men on the big league roster who have starting experience and could each pitch multiple innings, there are arms – albeit uninspiring ones – in AAA who could be recalled in a pinch, or the Nats could call up someone lower in the minor league system that’s been pitching better this season.

Here’s who Dave Martinez and the Nationals will be choosing between ahead of Sunday’s 1:05 p.m. game in Philadelphia:

Austin Voth and Paolo Espino

Both of these veterans are currently in Washington’s bullpen, but they’ve spent the bulk of their careers as starters. Espino is the lone pitcher outside of the core six starters to make a start this season, although that may have been because Voth wasn’t sufficiently rested. Voth, on the other hand, was viewed as the team’s No. 5 starter as recently as last season, and he’s started 21 games for the Nationals in his career.

Neither of these two are on the four days’ rest that you’d typically like for a starter to have. Therefore, neither would likely throw more than three or four innings. Still, they’ve pitched very well this season and, in tandem, could theoretically get the Nationals into the late innings with a lead.

Ben Braymer

Rogelio Armenteros would’ve fallen into this category too, until he started Friday night’s game for Rochester. With Armenteros out of the picture, Braymer is the best available starter in AAA –his 7.25 ERA through five starts this year notwithstanding. 

The 27-year-old left-hander made one start and three appearances for Washington last season, recording a 1.23 ERA and striking out eight batters in 7.1 innings. He’s also the organization’s No. 21 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, and he’s only allowed three runs in his last two starts (11 innings), the most recent of which was last Sunday.

Tim Cate

If Braymer’s performance this season is too concerning – which it might be, in spite of his recent turnaround – Tim Cate is also a viable option. The 23-year-old fellow lefty is Washington’s No. 8 prospect and has recorded a 4.65 ERA through his first six starts in AA Harrisburg. Much like Braymer, though, he’s been better lately. After allowing nine earned runs in his first two appearances, he’s given up two runs or fewer in three of his last four starts. The last time he threw (6/1), he held Portland (Red Sox) to three hits and one unearned run in 6.2 innings.

Cate isn’t on the 40-man roster, but the Nationals have an opening on it. The proximity of Harrisburg to Philadelphia makes this even more intriguing, since it allows for a last-minute decision to be made.

Cade Cavalli

This is the guy worth getting fired up about. Washington’s first-round selection in the 2020 draft has set the High-A ranks on fire. The 22-year-old right-hander out of Oklahoma has allowed only five runs in 27.2 innings and struck out 45 batters. Although he’s still three levels away from the big leagues, his dominant production thus far speaks for itself, and there were rumors that he was one injury away from debuting in the majors last season.

As crazy as it may seem, Cavalli is an option right now – and probably the most intriguing one that exists. And again (much like Harrisburg), Wilmington, Delaware is less than an hour away from Philadelphia.

As it stands, no one in the organization has given much of an indication of which way they’re leaning for Sunday’s game. However, the direction they take will let the fan base know what the state of the franchise is, as well as how dire Strasburg’s injury situation is. If Sunday becomes a bullpen game, this is a one-game Band-Aid before giving the reigns to Fedde. If they choose Cavalli, they’re looking for upside and a long-term solution.

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Tuesday, 22 June 2021
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