The Washington Nationals are 4-2 and at the top of the NL East after a pair of series victories to start the season in Chicago and New York, but the road is going to get a little tougher for the team. Closer Drew Storen and left fielder Michael Morse, both of whom haven’t played yet this season, will be out for a substantial period of time.
Storen had bone fragments removed from his right (throwing) elbow, and will be out for an unknown amount of time, but the team expects him to be back before the All-Star break. With Storen out, Washington’s closer role has been passed back and forth between flamethrowing Henry Rodriguez and experienced former Phillie Brad Lidge. Lidge and Rodriguez each have a save this season and have combined for ten strikeouts and two walks in 4 1/3 innings, with neither pitcher allowing an earned run. Curiously, the team expects Tyler Clippard, a dominant set-up man over the last couple of seasons, to remain in the eighth inning role and not get chances in the ninth. I can understand not wanting to move a pitcher from a role in which he thrives, but Clippard is clearly the best Nationals reliever. Rodriguez is prone to walking hitters in bunches, and Lidge hasn’t been healthy for the past couple of seasons in Philadelphia, and when he has been healthy, he hasn’t been effective. I’d be shocked if Clippard wasn’t closing games by the end of the month until Storen comes back.
As for Morse, the news isn’t good. On a rehab assignment this week, he reaggravated his torn lat muscle and will be in “total shutdown mode” over the next six weeks. Based on that, I’d assume the earliest he’d be back would be mid-June after rehab assignments. This is a huge detriment for Washington, as Morse was the team’s breakout superstar last year. Morse had a .910 OPS and 31 homers while playing 146 games for Washington, his first year as a full-time regular. It will be difficult for the team to replace the 30 year-old in the everyday lineup. Washington has primarily used veterans Xavier Nady and Mark DeRosa in left with Morse out. Nady doesn’t have a walk or an extra base hit in 15 plate appearances, and is coming off of back-to-back sub-.700 OPS years with the Cubs and Diamondbacks respectively. As for DeRosa, he has one hit in 16 plate appearances this year with three walks, but played in just 73 games over the last two years with the Giants, and wasn’t anywhere near effective when healthy in the Bay Area.