PHILADELPHIA — Their numbers the last turn through the rotation read like a laundry list of one of the league's best staffs. Ross Detwiler: 7 1/3 scoreless innings; Tommy Milone six scoreless; Stephen Strasburg, six innings, one run; Brad Peacock, five scoreless.
Their average age: 23 years.
Toss in the soon-to-be 27-year-old John Lannan, on the verge of winning 10 games this season, and Jordan Zimmermann, 25, without an innings limit. The Nationals could field a rotation next season drenched in talent where the left-handed Lannan is the elder statesman.
And that's just the homegrown options.
"This is different," pitching coach Steve McCatty said as he pondered the young stable. "I can remember a few years ago, sitting in the room saying, 'Who can we get to start - to be a fourth starter? Who have we got?' This is completely different."
The Nationals' 2012 rotation has a few sureties. Strasburg will be at the front of it, Zimmermann not far behind. Lannan figures to mix in somewhere in the middle and there could easily be a free agent target added to that group, perhaps even Chien-Ming Wang or Livan Hernandez if the price and the fit are right.
But with the way Detwiler, Milone and Peacock have been pitching since Sept. 3 (with a combined 2.48 ERA), there's no reason why it couldn't be one, two or all three of them.
"These are the good problems," McCatty said. "This is the good thing to have — but you've got to earn it."
Without adding anyone through trades or free agency this offseason, the Nationals could head to spring training next February with about eight pitchers competing for a spot in the rotation. It's a rush of talent long-awaited at the major league level and appreciated because of the lean years that came before it.
Even someone such as Peacock, who spent just two months in Triple-A before being called to the big leagues, could be told to get more seasoning.
He can change all of that with his performance.
"If he goes out and throws the ball well, there's another good problem we have," McCatty said. "I tell them all the time 'Don't make the choice easy. I don't want my choice to be easy. If you make it easy for me, you're not doing your job. Make it tough. Make it really tough.'
"It'd be great if we come in with eight guys and we're sitting there and we're saying, 'Man, who are we going to use?' It's good stuff."
McCatty called it "easily, without a shadow of a doubt," the most talent the Nationals have had at or near the major league level since he's been around the organization. The general rule is not to read too much into the performance of a prospect in September but it's hard to ignore the way pitchers such as Detwiler and Milone have excelled and improved at this level.
"I'm just trying to make it a little harder on them to decide for next year if I should be here or not," Milone said after his six-inning appetizer to Detwiler's seven-inning main course Tuesday in a doubleheader sweep at Philadelphia.
As the Nationals' players, coaches and officials have reacted with pleasure to the performances of their young starters this month, there's another reason they seem to have such an exceptionally positive outlook toward the staff's future.
"Oh, we've got some more down there," said Triple-A manager Randy Knorr. "I think the biggest thing we're going to have in spring training for the first time in a lot of years is that we're actually going to have some positions filled. It's going to be great going in to spring training with only one or two spots and watching these guys fight it out."
NOTES: Outfielder Jayson Werth (right elbow contusion) was not in the lineup Wednesday and was not expected to play Thursday. Werth was hit with a snap throw from Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz when he was a runner at third Tuesday night. He is listed as day to day, though manager Davey Johnson said he expects him to be ready for the weekend series against Atlanta.
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