ST. LOUIS — Saturday evening, Jordan Zimmermann will make what could be his final start of the regular season for the Nationals. On regular rest, his next turn would come up on Thursday — the day after the end of the regular season and, if the Nationals are in the NLDS, two days before any possible Game 1.
Say, for arguments sake, that the Nationals clinch the NL East and have the No. 1 seed in the NL playoffs. They could set their pitching up however they like it, but it’ll be next to impossible for them to keep guys on regular rest, starting with Zimmermann.
So what will they do to keep their pitching as sharp as possible?
“This time of year, it doesn’t really matter,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “Guys are going to be feeling great with six days rest, seven, it doesn’t matter. They’ll be ready. I’m not worried about ‘em.”
On six-plus days of rest in their careers, the Nationals’ top four starters have a combined ERA of 4.05, with Gio Gonzalez (5.59) and Edwin Jackson (4.19) the highest of the four. But on five days of rest, it’s Jordan Zimmermann (4.30) and Ross Detwiler (5.02) who’ve been hit hardest over their careers.
One way they can aid their cause is by clinching the National League East as quickly as possible. On their own, the earliest they could do that would be Sunday with a sweep of the Cardinals. If they get a little help from the Braves, it could happen Saturday night.
The Braves, of course, are 10-2 in their last 12 games and have won five straight. Helping the Nationals hasn’t exactly been something they’ve been excelling at lately.
And the Nationals will not alter their rotation, by sliding in an extra starter like Chien-Ming Wang for example, until they’ve clinched the division. Johnson will throw his best out there each night until that title is theirs.
“The way this is boiling down, everybody’s going to be just taking their regular rest turn,” Johnson said. “It could go right to the end. I’m not making any adjustments until we clinch the division. That’s the No. 1 goal, so they may all have to pitch right ‘til the end.”
Clinching earlier would help. Then Johnson might be able to tinker with things. He could push Gio Gonzalez back to the regular season’s final day, lining him up normal four-days rest for a possible Game 1 on Sunday. He could also move Ross Detwiler back.
But in truth the Nationals will be giving most of their pitchers the longest rest they’ve had since the All-Star break no matter what they try.
Johnson said the team has not considered throwing simulated games during the possible offdays late next week and the earliest their division series could start would be Saturday if they are the No. 2 seed in the NL. If they fail to clinch the NL East and somehow wind up in the one-game wild card playoff, well, that’s another story for another day.
For now the Nationals need to win, particularly with the Braves unwilling to lose.
“It’d help us a lot more if they’d play worse,” Johnson said of the Braves. “But I like these games all meaning something. I think it’s a good education and it makes it more fun. The Cardinals have got a lot riding on it, we’ve got a lot riding on it.”