Pitching performances like last night’s will hopefully happen more and more. Not that I am convinced that Craig Stammen is going to be the future ace of this club. Just that once again I have thought of him plus Zimmermann, Detwiler, Strasburg and Lannan swimming through my head. I am really looking forward to watching these young pitchers develop, and seeing if this team can get a real solid starting pitching staff for the next few years. One without a true weak spot. One where any guy could come out and give up 1 ER in 7 innings. One where the pitcher might only need the Nats to score a run or two to get the win. One where the bullpen only needs to shut the door for 2 innings.

Another thing I’ve said 100 times bears some repeating – if they could get some help on the defensive side of the ball, whether it’s through the farm system or through free agency, that would be nice to see.

I’m Serious About This

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably repeat it. Once the trade deadline comes and goes, even if Nick Johnson, Willie Harris, Josh Willingham, Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns are still on the team (and if that happens, we’ll need to have a serious discussion), Elijah Dukes needs to be brought back up to the majors. I understand that if the team doesn’t want to trade him, stashing him in AAA for a month isn’t going to be a huge deal. But if they keep him down there…

They need to be playing him every day, in the majors. Either he’s the part of the future of this franchise and he has to play to get better, or he’s not and he has to play to get trade value. He can be traded in the offseason, so I’m not worried about his July PT. But after that deadline (July 31 – Twenty Four more days – but who’s counting?) he has got to be up with the big boy club. And in case you thought he forgot how to hit, in his second game in AAA hit a blast to straightaway center that was over 450 feet (thanks to Nationals Journal for the link). He’s 3 for 7 with 2 extra base hits. I assume he’ll continue to pound the ball down there. But come July, the Nats could easily make room for him by, I don’t know, releasing Austin Kearns?

Who’s Ready to Go?

Of course, there is talk of Nick Johnson being the biggest piece of trade bait. He’s currently hitting .292/.402/.404 which means he’s getting on base about as much as anyone in the league. He isn’t hitting with much power at all, but this is a half-year rental, I think teams would be happy to get his production if they really need someone. My concern is that the Nats are asking for too much. Seeing him play every day makes you appreciate him, he’s a good player who plays hard and really makes pitchers work. But among the 25 AB-qualified MLB first basemen, he ranks 5th in OBP… and 22nd in SLG and 18th in OPS. He’s a good player, but he’s not spectacular with the bat, especially for his position. Remember to get something good, but don’t hold him until Aug 1 and realize you’re gonna get nothing for him.

Josh Willingham is the other guy that has been getting some attention and it’s not surprising. Among all major leaguer OFer with 200 or more PAs, he ranks 9th in OPS, 6th in OBP, and 13th in SLG. This from a guy who was hitting .135/.333/.243 on May 5. Since then, as you can imagine, he has done well. Acutally he has hit .326/.422/.598 in the 43 games and 154 PAs he’s had since then. He is also a desirable trade piece because he isn’t a free agent until after the 2011 season. Of course, Dunn has similar numbers (more power, less OBP) and a year less on a much more expensive contract. I believe one of those guys needs to be traded. I lean toward Willingham because while I think he is a very good player, this could be a sell high time. The again, Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus leans the other way:

Charlie (Bethesda): Who would you rather trade if you’re the Nats, Willingham or Dunn?

Jay Jaffe: If I’m Mike Rizzo (and thank heavens I’m not), I’d rather find a taker for Dunn, who could bring back something that will help the Nats rebuild, but they’ll probably have to eat salary to make that happen.

I think the idea of trading one is necessary – they are too similar. But people know, like and root for Dunn. They haven’t established themselves as giving away every player the way the Pirates did, trading Dunn may anger an already dissatisfied fan base. Then again, maybe you’d get something really good for him… And if this all depresses you too much, here’s the very next question Jaffe answered:

knuckleball (VA): Is Jordan Zimmermann the real deal? I watched him shut down the red sox at a game a few weeks ago and was very impressed with what I saw.

Jay Jaffe: Scouty types, including our own Kevin Goldstein, see Zimmermann as a solid #2 starter down the road, and there’s certainly enough in his performance – the strikeout, walk and homer rates – to convince me that he’s well on his way there.

By Charlie