The Washington Nationals have somehow survived despite a string of injuries to starting pitchers, getting workmanlike performances from nearly every fill-in hurler they've summoned.
On Friday, Billy Traber became the 11th different pitcher to start for the Nationals this season. The left-hander, who had exclusively worked out of the bullpen, allowed one earned run in four innings and will be given another chance to start.
Even so, it appears the Nationals are going to need to look into their farm system and summon one of their top pitching prospects by the end of the week.
Washington plays a day-night doubleheader against the Mets in New York on Saturday. Traber is scheduled to start one of the games, but a minor leaguer will need to be called up to start the other.
Club sources said one of two prospects is likely to earn a promotion and make his major league debut at Shea Stadium: either left-hander John Lannan or right-hander Joel Hanrahan, both currently pitching well at Class AAA Columbus.
Lannan, 22, has been the biggest surprise in the organization this season. The left-hander is a combined 12-3 with a 2.35 ERA at three different levels of the farm system and on Friday threw seven strong innings to improve to 3-1 with a 1.75 ERA at Columbus.
Hanrahan, 25, has been consistently solid all season for Columbus, with a 5-3 record and 3.50 ERA in 14 starts. He has been a candidate for promotion for several months.
The Nationals have tried their best not to rush any of their young pitchers to the majors. Considering the injuries to John Patterson, Shawn Hill, Jason Bergmann, Jason Simontacchi, Micah Bowie and Jerome Williams, it's perhaps surprising they haven't been forced into calling one of the young players up until now.
"It's a credit to those guys," manager Manny Acta said of the veteran minor leaguers who have filled in. "I guess we were right when we signed all those free agent pitchers and brought 37 guys to camp. If we wouldn't have done that, we would be in deep trouble this year or we would have been forced to push and rush some of our younger pitchers."
Booker gets call
Chris Booker became the latest addition to Washington's bullpen yesterday, formally recalled from Columbus to take the roster spot vacated by Simontacchi (who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow tendinitis).
Booker, 30, was among the top closers in the minors, with 24 saves and a 3.83 ERA for the Clippers. The right-hander, who made a brief stint with the Nationals last season, said he enjoyed the role.
"I like it," he said. "Come in late in the game with everything on the line. You don't have any room for mistakes. I kind of enjoy that thing."
Booker won't face those situations with Washington. Acta said he'll be used in the middle innings. But Booker said his experience closing will help him maintain a level of intensity whenever he is summoned out of the Nationals' bullpen.
"I'll treat it just like I was coming in to close the game," he said. "I don't want to make any mistakes, put someone on base and put myself in a position to lose the game."
Though he was able to pinch-hit in the seventh inning, Dmitri Young was not available to play in the field because of a bruised left heel that kept him out of the lineup the last two days. Young's status remains day-to-day. Robert Fick has been starting in his place at first base. ...
Brian Schneider went 2-for-3 with a double, snapping out of a 4-for-42 slump that dropped his average to .227.