Sunday, December 10, 2006
So-What Do We Actually Have?
Instead of rehashing and continuing the ongoing commentary throughout the Nats Blogsphere on whether Our Washington Nationals have competent Ownership and Management, I thought I'd give my thoughts on what we "Do Have" at each and every position on the Major League Roster. Starting Today, with Pitching.
I not into reading tea leaves by perusing all the various stats available for consumption. Its just not my thing. My comments are based on my personal knowledge of each, and by watching virtually every single game in Washington Nationals history, in person at RFK, and on the tube.
No doubt, this team is hurting badly with Starting Pitching on the mound. No proven hurler you can say, right now--"I trust that guy, just give him the ball".
John Patterson is the best bet to give Washington something special. Number 22 has good stuff, great demeanor on the mound--just can't stay healthy. Patterson needs to be strong, all season long, so Manny Acta can give the ball confidently to at least one pitcher, every 5 days. I like Patterson, really has all the tools to be special--needs to step it up in 2007--Big Time.
Crippling, is the only way to describe the remainder of the choices to take the mound. The top choices, as of today, are Shawn Hill, Mike O'Connor, Tim Redding, Beltran Perez and Matt Chico--maybe Joel Hanrahan. In his few starts last season, Shawn Hill was impressive--pitched 7 strong shutout innings against the Phillies last June 11. Just about the only Nats pitcher that can actually bunt the ball--helping himself. Very composed on the mound. Will get a long look in camp this spring. Maybe his last look. At one time a TOP EXPOS PROSPECT. Have always thought, Shawn could be special.
Alot of folks out there like Mike O'Connor alot-he hangs in there, despite on every single pitch, appearing to be just pushing the ball to the plate. The sign of a struggling team--Mike was rushed to the Big Club last season to fill the injury void. Competent, but over the long term, I just can't see O'Connor making it. Doesn't have enough good stuff to consistently be effective. If Mike was not a lefthander, he would already be gone. Sorry, I know alot of folks disagree with me on this one.
Redding is a journeyman pitcher, one that, despite all the early career press clippings, never has been able to find his way on the Major League Level. Can be an innings eater, something this team needs badly. Unless Tim is absolutely terrible, you can pencil him in as one of the 5 starters at the beginning of the upcoming season. May well win 10 games for Washington this coming season. No doubt, Redding will be given every chance to succeed.
Beltran Perez was impressive in 8 games with Washington last September. Went 6 strong innings in two late starts against Atlanta and The Mets, before New York hammered him during his last start of the season--September 30. Jumped all the way from AA ball, his composure was beyond his 24 years on the mound. Young and a hot arm are on his side. Will he be able to adjust to major league hitters, consistently--or digress? If he struggles early, he will be sent down, fast.
Then there's Matt Chico--left hander acquired in the Livan Hernandez deal last August. At one time a top 40 prospect in the game, before struggling at AA ball the first time around. Seemed to have found himself his second season at AA, last year, before his trade to Washington--but, did not pitch overly well for AA Harrisburg. Still only 22 years old, will be given every opportunity to make the Big Club at Viera this spring. Just hoping Jimbo doesn't ruin him by rushing him up. Chico will be Randy St.Claire's number one priority in spring training.
Finally, Joel Hanrahan, a minor league free agent--comes over from the Dodger Organization where he never flourished after being a Top 70 Prospect in 2000. The 25 year old right hander wants to start. Will get the opportunity to show his best--but, you mostly don't bounce around the minors these days, especially in the pitching department--it there is not something wrong with your game. Nothing to lose on him. He's at tossup. No one really knows whether he will come up heads or tails.
That's incredibly thin starting pitching. Starting Pitching killed Washington Last season, and with a lesser talented everyday lineup, most likely, in 2007--this team may well struggle out of the gate, as so many pitchers--looking to make the big consistent step forward to The Majors, find out whether they really do have the right stuff. These hurlers, and others, that take the mound to start each of the 162 games this season--will be the defining story of Our Washington Nationals.
2006's starting pitching was so bad, with very few players lasting through 6 innings--the Nationals relievers were chewed up and thrown a dry bone--wearing out the relief corps. And, with Luis Ayala gone for the season, 2005 stalwart, Gary Majewski pitching poorly out the gate, and eventually traded--Frank Robinson was left with a very inexperienced staff to depend on to douse the flames of the bad starters. More times than not, it appeared Washington was already down 4 or more runs by the 3rd inning. With Frank Robinson consistently calling the bullpen by the 4th--the relievers arms tired early and The Called Up New Orleans Zephyrs Bullpen was terrible, early on, for Washington.
But, as the season progressed though, some bright spots began to emerge. 2007 may well be as positive out of the bullpen for Our Nationals as the entire inaugural Season of 2005--maybe the strength of the team.
Saul Rivera was consistently strong down the stretch. Coming on in the 7th inning as a set up man--shutting down team after team--giving up just 1 earned run over his last 15 mound appearance. Frank trusted him and Saul gave new life to his middling career in 2006. Never overpowering, but, for the first time in his professional career, trusted himself--and it showed late.
Career Journeyman--Lefthander Micah Bowie, was called up in July, 2006 to fill the void of Bill Bray being traded in the Felipe Lopez/Austin Kearns/Ryan Wagner deal. Only still in the game at 32 years old, because he IS A LEFTHANDER, Micah was flat out lights out in 15 appearances on the mound for The Nationals--until pulling a muscle in his lower lumbar on August 9th against the Marlins at RFK. Whether a healthy Bowie will be able to revive his magic in 2007--is mighty important to this teams health. Micah Bowie is a situational lefty. Perhaps the only one of the team--or ready from the minors. Sometime the light comes on late in certain players, and they finally understand the game. Bowie may well one of those late bloomers. Or, he may well just return to his mediocre self of years past.
Jon Rauch--revived his struggling career in 2006. The Tallest Person to Ever Play The Game, was the set up man all season long for The Chief, Chad Cordero. Rauch gave up far too many home runs, 13 in 91 innings, but, when Frank wasn't overusing him and wasting him by throwing Jon game after game--Rauch was quite effective. With his tremendous height, 6'11"--"The Wookie" is mighty frightening, throwing straight down, over the top. For any batter, the ball must appear like its coming down from the sky above. Many seem to want to see Jon as a starter. He never seemed to be able to get past 2 innings, at any time last season. Rauch was so effective as a set up man last season, I just can't image Manny Acta moving him to the starting blocks.
Ryan Wagner came over in the Big Reds Trade. A one time number 1 pick by, who else, Jimbo, for the Reds--Wagner was rushed to the Majors by Bowden. Then, lost his confidence as the Reds Organization completely overhauled his pitching motion. Randy St.Claire's work in progress revived some of his old style late in 2006. Throwing an effective slider, once again--regaining his lost composure. Despite looking like he will throw out his right elbow on each and every pitch (Wagner slings the ball like not other), I found Ryan to actually be the most impressive of the 3 players coming over from Cincinnati in the Big Trade from last summer. Many don't agree with me on this one, also. Only 23 years old. I really like him-alot.
At times, late in the season, Chris Schroeder was over powering. Against the Phillies, in September, he struck out all six batters he faced, including NL MVP Ryan Howard and the heart of the Philadelphia order. At other times, quite ordinary, and nothing special. Hard to figure him out. Then, comes Washington's latest pickup, from the Rule 5 Draft--Levale Speigner. Drafted from the Minnesota Twins, Levale has respectable numbers from AAA Rochester. But, I have never heard of him, and can't really make a comment either way.
Which brings us to Luis Ayala. Mr. Rubber Arm for both the Expos and The Nationals in their inaugural season. Set Up man extraordinaire for The Chief. Hurt his elbow from Frank's overuse in 2005--had surgery, then stupidly, upon the urging of former teammate, Esteban Loaiza--came back too soon to pitch for his Native Mexico last spring in the First World Baseball Classic. Destroyed his elbow---missed the entire season--pissing off alot of his teammates with Washington--especially Brian Schneider. The loss of number 56 hurt badly--completely changed the bullpen roles for many. His health and arm strength an important factor to watch in 2007. If he returns to form--Washington, once again has the makings of a first class bullpen--one of the best in the game. But, elbow surgery is not an easy operation to come back from. If healthy, Luis is a major addition back in the bullpen.
Finally, there's The Chief, Chad Cordero. Outside of Ryan Zimmerman, the most interesting personality remaining on Our Washington Nationals. Never afraid to face a challenge. Has a terrific image with the straight billed cap brimming down just above his eyes. Pudgy and not that terrific a looking athlete--Cordero has saved 76 games for The Nationals in the past two seasons--yet almost never without making the game interesting. No lead is ever safe with Chad on the mound--yet far more times than not--has closed the door. Was flatout terrible in the beginning of 2006, but recovered nicely over the final 4 months of the seasons. I just love the guy, and was extremely perturbed to hear the rumors about Cordero being traded to Boston for Wily Mo Pena. Despite The Chief's problems on the mound, he's worth a quality starter in return, in any trade, and most likely another prospect. Very fond of him--not sure if Jimbo's going to keep him, though.
If there is a strong point for the Washington 2007 contingent, its got to be the bullpen. There are some quality arms out there. Not enough lefties, unfortunately, just one--but The Nats did fine in a similar set up in 2005. But, like last year, there is no guarantee the starters will be able to make it late into games this coming year--thus starting the overuse that existed throughout the just completed season.
As I have said before, with just about every single Nats follower--"We need some quality starting pitching--BADLY!!"
Next up--The Everyday Players and Bench.