Washington Nationals

Nationals hope to replace Bryce Harper with strong pitching

With Bryce Harper unlikely to be back in Washington next year, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo is focusing on building a formidable pitching staff.

As they prepare for life without Bryce Harper in their lineup, the Washington Nationals are putting together one of the best rotations in baseball.

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has been busy this offseason stockpiling starting pitchers to compensate for the possibility that free agent Harper won’t be back next season.

The latest move is the signing of free agent RHP Anibal Sanchez to a two-year deal on Thursday, with a $12 million team option for 2021.

Sanchez, who turns 35 in February, returned to form in 2018 with a 2.83 ERA in 24 starts with the Atlanta Braves. He finished at 5.87 and 6.41 the previous two seasons with Detroit.

The Nationals are probably tired of having to face Sanchez: he has a 2.08 ERA in 25 career starts against them, the lowest among teams he’s made at least 10 starts against.

He joins a Nationals starting rotation that is quickly becoming one of the most formidable in the league. Washington signed free agent Patrick Corbin to a six-year deal on Dec. 7 after the 29-year-old finished with 11 wins and a 3.15 ERA with Arizona in 2018.

Three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer remains under contract for the next three years. And oft-injured Stephen Strasburg, who’s made 25 starts just once in the last four seasons, has five years left on his deal.

The Nationals did lose one arm from their rotation this offseason, however, after trading Tanner Roark to the Cincinnati Reds on Dec. 12.

The additions to their pitching staff are necessary with the looming departure of the franchise’s leading slugger. Harper rejected a reported 10-year, $300 million deal from the Nationals in September, and the team is preparing for the probability he’ll go elsewhere in 2019.

“I really don’t expect him to come back at this point,” owner Mark Lerner said earlier in December. “I think [Harper and his agent, Scott Boras] decided to move on.”

The Nationals are also moving on from the Harper era. Instead of replacing his bat in the lineup, though, they’re turning to pitching to remain contenders in the NL East. Washington’s starters finished 2018 with a 4.03 ERA, ninth in the National League.

They’ll need to be better in 2019 to offset the loss of Harper.

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The additions of Sanchez and Corbin is a step in the right direction.

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