Nats appear to be in the market for a starter

WASHINGTON — If what the Nationals and GM Mike Rizzo are saying remains true, and they will actually shut down ace right-hander Stephen Strasburg when he hits 160 innings this season, the club will likely be in the market to replace him in the team’s already sterling starting rotation.

(To give you an idea of how important Strasburg has been — and would be missed — his Wins Above Replacement this season is 2.6. Though that’s not in the top 10 among MLB pitchers, it’s well above average. Justin Verlander leads MLB pitchers with 4.9, while Strasburg’s teammate Jordan Zimmermann clocks in at sixth with 3.3.)

The club has three pitchers with Triple-A Syracuse — Zach Duke, John Lannan and Yunesky Maya — who have more than 100 innings of experience starting this season, and Duke is the only one of the three to win more than six games (he’s 10-4 with a 3.78 ERA).

Lannan has plenty of big league experience, starting a total of 122 games for the Nats over the last four seasons, so he’s the most likely candidate from that threesome.

But if the team is going to look outside the organization, keep an eye on Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and Francisco Liriano. Dempster seems to be the first pitcher on the block to be gaining steam, but FOXSports.com is reporting that the Nationals are not either of his top two choices.

If the Nationals are to go out and pick up a starter, they could be giving up a middle infielder, with Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond (who it’s almost certain they will not part with) and Steve Lombardozzi all producing this season.

The club also has great catching depth — with Wilson Ramos injured, Jhonaton Solano and Jesus Flores have both stepped up, and Davey Johnson has remarked that he’s never been around a team with such organizational depth at that position — but instead of dealing one of those players, Ken Rosenthal seems to think they’re more likely to acquire an everyday catcher.

This team is well ahead of schedule, sitting in first place, and is expected to get Jayson Werth and Drew Storen back soon. These factors may have Rizzo thinking a little more conservatively. Or, with the opportunity for the first playoff berth since the team returned to DC, he may pull out all the stops to cash in on what has already been a banner year.

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