Inbox: Can short slate work in Nats' favor?

Beat reporter Jessica Camerato answers Nats fans' questions

July 17th, 2020

Baseball is just around the corner, which means it’s time for another Nationals Inbox. Opening Day is one week away on July 23, and there are many questions surrounding the lineup, pitching rotation and how a shortened 60-game season will look. Let’s jump into these topics as the Nats prepare to host the Yankees and embark on defending their World Series title next Thursday.

Comments on how a short schedule might work in the Nats' favor?
-- @krimar

A condensed 60-game schedule is a sprint compared to the marathon of the traditional 162 contests. Getting off to a strong start is of the essence in the Nats' pursuit of repeating as World Series champions.

After a slow 19-31 start last season, Washington was 27-33 -- and 13th in the National League -- after the first 60 games. The club is well aware of the ramifications of struggling early on this year.

“We cannot go 19-31,” manager Dave Martinez said on Tuesday. “Every game in a 60-game season, you start off kind of like in a playoff run. We’ve got to try to win as many games as possible, especially early.”

From that perspective, no team in baseball has had more recent playoff success than the Nationals. They went 12-5 in postseason battles, starting with a Wild Card matchup against the Brewers and concluding with a Game 7 World Series win over the Astros. The Nats enter this season riding the momentum of a “must-win-now” mentality that landed them on top.

Who will be in the initial starting pitching rotation?
-- @MarkAhrens

The Nationals' core starting pitching rotation of , , and is back for the 2020 season. Scherzer is slated to be the Opening Day starter against Gerrit Cole and the Yankees.

The question is, who will be the fifth starter? and are the top contenders after elected not to play this season. Last year, the trio of right-handers shared the job. Martinez has said he will consider who is best suited to start and who could be used as a long man out of the bullpen, another role they are looking to fill.

In 2019, Voth made eight starts (2-1, 3.48 ERA, 41 1/3 frames) and one appearance as a reliever (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 1/3 innings). Fedde started in 12 games (4-2, 4.48 ERA, 60 1/3 innings) and pitched nine out of the bullpen (0-0, 4.58 ERA, 17 2/3 innings).

Voth's and Fedde’s mechanics are different. Voth relies on four-seamers (60.5% of his pitches), per Statcast, followed by his curveball (20.2%), slider (11.3%) and changeup (8.1%). He is working on adding a splitter this season. Fedde, on the other hand, goes with his sinker (41.5%) the most. He also uses a curveball (19.7%), cutter (17.9%), four-seamer (13.9%) and split finger (6.9%).

Voth said he had been eyeing the fifth-starter role in the offseason and during the delay.

“I haven’t stopped preparing for it,” he said this week. “I’m ready if I get the role. It’s something that I’m ready for. I’m ready to take it on.”

With the universal DH in place, do you think Howie Kendrick will be in the lineup more, or will Davey Martinez err on the side of caution and mix and match?
-- @beefdaddy4

The new designated hitter rule will create playing time for those who may have been out of the lineup on any given day. , who is tabbed to share first-base duties with , is a strong candidate for the role.

Last season, the World Series hero hit .344/.395/.572 with 17 home runs and 62 RBIs in 370 plate appearances. He also ranked second on the Nationals with a .966 OPS en route to lifting them to a title.

Washington has other veteran options, too, one of them being infielder . With Carter Kieboom tabbed as the starting third baseman, this leaves the switch-hitting Cabrera available to DH. In 2019, Cabrera slashed .323/.404/.565 with six homers and 40 RBIs in 146 plate appearances after he became a member of the Nationals in August.