Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Potential Dilemmas

Decent Starting Pitching, Solid Bullpen Help, Timely Hitting and Making The Routine Defensive Play, all traits Our Washington Nationals are finally showing as we begin the third week of the 2007 Season. No doubt, this Franchise has a long way to go before becoming a consistent winner, yet Our Nationals are slowly becoming a team--bonding while four of its most expected work horses are all sitting on the sidelines, recovering from injury.

In a matter of weeks, Cristian Guzman, Nook Logan and Ray King will all return to the 25 man active roster. Since all three went down, their replacements have all fared well. Even Nats Management would have to admit Ronnie Belliard, Ryan Church, Chris Snelling and Saul Rivera have helped turnaround the young season. And, I am not even considering Dimitri Young. Who's sole reason for being A Washington Nationals is due to Nick Johnson's slow recovery from his broken femur.

Belliard has played well in Guzman's absence. Except for two boots in the field (one coming last night), Ronnie has played second base on an All Star Level. Not only that, he has raised his game at the plate, consistently getting on base. Belliard's been a table setter in the two hole, keeping rallies alive. Only with Felipe Lopez, batting second behind Alfonso Soriano last year, has Washington had such success with their two spot in the batting order. And, you gotta love Number 10's Batting Style at the plate. If any player could rightfully call themselves Manny Ramirez, Jr-its Ronnie Belliard. At times, he swings like a Manny Clone. Since both grew up in New York City together, maybe they also learned the game together. Ramirez though has far more power.

Ryan Church is molding himself into the solid player everyone believed, except for Frank Robinson. MY MAIN MAN!! set free by Our Manager, Manny Acta is simply playing baseball, performing up to his potential. Number 19 is a POWER BAT and a decent, although not spectacular outfielder. How much better would Ryan Church be right now, if no one had messed with his head over the first two seasons of Nationals Baseball in Washington. We will NEVER KNOW!!

Chris Snelling is an exciting, heady, gamer. "YODA" would rather run into a wall in a vain attempt to make a catch, than just honestly give up on it. No one is sure whether his bulky left knee will not give way, but what does anyone have to lose. This 25 year old Aussie from Down Under can play baseball. Whether as a starter or role player, Chris Snelling, rightfully has earned important playing time.

And, as I wrote about last night, Saul Rivera is the perfect bullpen complement. Number 52 is versatile. Rivera can go long or short, set up man or closer, no roles seems to affect his performances. After a rough start during his Rookie Season last summer at RFK Stadium, mostly due to Major League inexperience, Saul has been one of Washington's most consistent relievers. This 29 Year Old Native Puerto Rican is coming into his own and developing into a fine Major League Pitcher.

When Guzman, Logan and King recover and are ready to return, what moves does General Manager Jim Bowden make? More importantly, who gets the starting roles, barring any further injuries?

Without a doubt, Kory Casto is sent down to AAA Columbus. Casto is a fine prospect, good hitting skills and a plan at the plate. Yet, so far this early season, Kory has been outmatched hitting against more polished Major League Pitching. Casto needs to refine his game with The Clippers and learn to hit the Cut Off Man in the field. Something Number 5 has yet to do in April playing left field. No one within Our Washington Nationals are down on him. Jumping from AA Ball to The Majors is not something every player can pull off. Kory Casto will be back in A Nationals Uniform-sooner, rather than later.

D'Angelo Jimenez is gone. His days are numbered. A true journeyman now, Jimenez may well have a decent bat, but he simply can't field the ball consistently well anymore. Which reminds me of Josh Wilson. Wilson performed rather well in Spring Training, hitting solidly and making most of the routine plays in the field. Jim Bowden at one time in March claimed four other teams were calling him about Josh's availability. Yet since the regular season began, Wilson played poorly at shortstop in the second game of the season and has been banished to the bench, receiving virtually no quality playing time. I would love to know if anyone is calling Bowden now about Josh Wilson. If so, lets move him.

Then, there is Ray King. "Everyday" Ray is known for having a rubber arm. Bowden picked King off the baseball scrap heap in an attempt to bolster Washington's Bullpen with a situational lefty. King if successful, would certainly return a mid-level prospect in July to The Nationals near the Trade Deadline from a contender. Left Handed Pitchers are such a hot commodity in the game. Those players that can perform this chore seem to last forever. Although King has not fared well so far this early season, I can't see Bowden giving up on him, and letting Ray go for nothing. Ray King is a Washington National only to see a young prospect returned for his services to another club. If Bowden can get something for nothing, during a total rebuilding season, its a great move. This is how you "steal" prospects.

But, that also leaves Saul Rivera, once again, as the man on the outside, looking in, unless Our General Manager can move a low level prospect to Minnesota to keep Levale Speigner and send him to The Minors. Bowden is not going to give up on Rule V Draftee Levale and try to pass him through waivers, so soon. Number 36 has struggled in his few Major League outings over the past two weeks. But, outside of Shawn Hill, there might not have been any more impressive pitcher in The Major League Camp in Viera, Florida than Levale. Speigner is here to stay, until he proves himself worthy, or not.

Makes me feel bad for Saul Rivera. He is just so deserving.

Finally, 2nd base, shortstop and centerfield--who gets the nods?

As much as so many wish for "THE GUZ" to just go away, it simply is not going to happen. Our Washington Nationals are not going to dump his contract. For better, or worse, everyone needs to see whether Guzman can still play the game, provide a solid batting average (.260 or so) and still field his position well. If healthy, Number 15 is a better choice at shortstop over Lopez. Cristian would also make himself tradable. Felipe has a terrific arm, but is too erratic of a fielder. FLop at 2nd, Guzman at Short, with Belliard playing the key backup role, is a decent set up. Belliard can also play third base, if Ryan Zimmerman needs a breather.

Personally, I am all for Ryan Church remaining in centerfield and Snelling in left for the time being. Nook Logan is a terrific outfielder that covers some serious ground. But, I have always felt the number of runs he saves defensively never overcomes his offensive shortcomings. As a fourth outfielder, late inning defensive replacement, situational hitter, Logan has VALUE. Everyday playing, Nook is more a liability. Sorry.

Now--can we TRUST that NICK JOHNSON will be FULLY RECOVERED to play 100% come August 1st? Does it really matter? Dimitri Young is providing some serious power filling in at first base. Where would Our Nationals be without Bowden signing Young out of nowhere land. Young may not be much of fielder, but his bat has been potent--and key to two of their four wins so far. At the rate Dimitri Young is playing, he, more than any other current player on Washington's Roster will be highly sought after by American League Teams looking for a Designated Hitter down the stretch run. Lets hope Dimitri continues to rejuvenate his career. Young could prove extremely valuable later this summer (Belliard as well) in trade.

As I said a few months back, The Team Our Washington Nationals field in April, may well not be the team we see come May. And, unquestionably will be a far different ballclub come late summer and early fall. Our Washington Nationals are in perpetual motion. A very interesting dilemma, watching Our Washington Nationals transform before our very eyes.

PS--I sure would love to see a Healthy Alex Escobar. That man can play!! Escobar in Center, Church in left. Power, Defense and Arms in the outfield, alongside Austin Kearns. I can live with those three starting everyday.

All Game Photos--(AP)--Photographers--Julie Jacobson, Nick Wass, Gregory Smith, John Bazemore

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