Which roster decisions do Nats have on hold?

Washington faces choices on a fifth starter, Kieboom and its bullpen

March 17th, 2020

Before Spring Training ended early and Opening Day was delayed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Nationals had multiple players contending for some key roles. Here's how those roles might be filled when the 2020 season resumes.

Fifth starter
Last season, the Nationals used a combination of , and as fifth starters. The trio was back in the mix for the job this spring. The team had not yet made an official decision when games were suspended, but Ross had emerged as a strong candidate.

Fedde: Three games (two starts), 2.45 ERA, 7 1/3 innings, five hits, two earned runs (three runs total), four walks, seven strikeouts, .185 batting average against

Ross: Three games (all starts), 2.45 ERA, 7 1/3 innings, four hits, two runs, four walks, three strikeouts, .167 batting average against

Voth: Three games (two starts), 1.29 ERA, 7 innings, six hits, one run, one walk, six strikeouts, .231 batting average against

The right-handed Ross, who had Tommy John surgery in 2017, posted a perfect 0.00 ERA in his first two starts. He is coming off a 2019 season that included two World Series appearances for the Nationals -- Game 3 out of the bullpen and Game 5 in a spot start for the injured Max Scherzer. During the regular season, Ross went 4-2 with a 3.02 ERA in 44 2/3 innings as a starter, compared with 0-2 with an 11.17 ERA in 19 1/3 frames as a reliever.

“Joe looks like he's in great shape,” Stephen Strasburg said during Spring Training. “His stuff's just jumping out of his hands. I'm excited to see what he has going in the tank this year.”

Third base
The battle to start at third base isn’t so much a battle as it is a matter of development and readiness. The Nationals have given Carter Kieboom, their No. 1 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, the opportunity to earn the job. Kieboom has only appeared in 11 Major League games, and they all were at shortstop.

The 22-year-old worked this offseason on transitioning to the hot corner. Once Spring Training competition began, he saw the real-time difference in game speed and feel at the position. In Florida, Kieboom hit .233/.395/.300 with seven hits in 14 games. Defensively, he had three errors, seven putouts and 14 assists for an .875 fielding percentage over 75 1/3 innings.

To help with Kieboom’s adjustment, stepped into the role of veteran mentor. The 34-year-old has played 1,283 2/3 innings with a .965 fielding percentage at third base. Cabrera, now in his 14th season, noted he was helped as a young player by older teammates and he wanted to pay it forward with Kieboom.

The Nationals see Kieboom as part of their future. But if he isn’t ready for the starting role when the 2020 regular season opens, Washington can turn to Cabrera.

When the Nationals released reliever Hunter Strickland on Saturday, the roster move created a potential opening for another bullpen arm. Last week, Nationals manager Dave Martinez noted that a group of relievers had stood out to him in their spring outings.

“I can tell you the guys that I’ve seen so far that have thrown the ball really well -- [James] Bourque, [Kyle] Finnegan ... [Sam] Freeman ... [Fernando] Abad,” Martinez said. “I try not to judge guys in Spring Training because it’s fairly hard. But what I do judge is how they react to certain situations, how the ball’s coming out. We take a lot of consideration [into] what they’ve done the past two or three years.”

The Nationals had plenty of options on their Spring Training roster beyond those mentioned, including Ryne Harper, who pitched 54 1/3 innings with a 3.81 ERA for the Twins last season. And as they determine their fifth starter, whoever misses out on a spot in the rotation is likely to be in the bullpen.