Each week this season, we’ll take the temperature of the Nationals roster to see which player's stock is rising or falling.
Team slash: .254/.344/.468
Team ERA: 3.13
Runs per game: 5.8
Danny Espinosa, SS: .385 AVG, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 1.369 OPS
It’d be a crime if the reigning NL Player of the Week didn’t receive some attention here, wouldn't it? Once a sub-.200 hitter in early May, Espinosa has since rewarded Dusty Baker’s faith in him by establishing himself as one of the top power-hitting shortstops in baseball. With 18 home runs, he’s tied for the team lead with Bryce Harper — just like everyone expected, right? — and is good for second in the majors in that category among his position group.
Stephen Strasburg, SP: 1-0, 6.2 IP, 0 H
In his first start since coming off the disabled list, the Nats weren’t likely to push Strasburg to pitch deep in Sunday’s game against the Reds. That is, until he began to flirt with history. The team’s conservative approach was tested as the 27-year-old righty threw 6 2/3 hitless innings on 109 pitches, making everyone in the stadium wonder if he’d be allowed to go for the no-no. Understandably, though, Baker removed him from the game as it was apparent his pitch count was too high to realistically expect him to complete the no-hit bid.
Though he didn’t get a chance to finish the job, the consolation prize for Strasburg was that he moved to 11-0, becoming the first National League pitcher to do so since 1985. Interestingly enough, the last MLB starter to go 11-0 in his first 15 outings was his rotation mate Max Scherzer, who went on to win the AL Cy Young Award in 2013. It’s too early to tell if Strasburg’s season will end with those kind of accolades, but he’s certainly put himself in good position to be considered.
Jonathan Papelbon, RP: 2 GP, 1 SV, 5 K
If this is the version of Papelbon the Nats get down the stretch, upgrading the bullpen may not be as dire of a need as originally thought. In his first two appearances since coming off the disabled list, the 35-year-old reliever has not only been efficient, he’s looked dominant.
The most encouraging sign is that he appears to be missing bats more often than he was before his DL stint. He’s registered five strikeouts in his last two outings, inducing a total of six swing-and-misses between them. For comparison, he notched seven whiffs in his previous five outings combined.
Joe Ross, SP: 5.1 IP, 4 ER, 15-day disabled list
Who knows how serious Ross’ right shoulder inflammation is, but it's clear he hasn't been the same pitcher he was during the early part of the season. While he hasn’t been terrible by any means, he’s allowed three or more runs in five out of his last six outings. And after his velocity was noticeably down in the later innings of Saturday’s start against the Reds, there was a sense afterward that he might get some time off. With the move to place him on the disabled list, perhaps he can regain his form and a few ticks on his sinker, which is a vital part of his repetoire.