Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Garrett Mock didn't help his cause for a spot in the rotation today.
JUPITER, Fla. -- Boy, how quickly things have changed at Nationals camp.
Only eight days ago, Garrett Mock looked like a sure thing, a lock to open the season in Washington's rotation. Today, following his worst outing of the spring, the right-hander's status is very much up in the air.
After watching Mock give up six runs (four earned) on seven hits and five walks in only 4 2/3 innings against the Marlins -- and needing a whopping 96 pitches to do it -- Riggleman's evaluation was decidedly less-glowing.
"The outing speaks for itself," the manager said. "I can't say much about it. You saw it. He was good for two or three hitters in a sequence, and then he would throw to a couple of hitters and leave some balls up in the zone to be hit."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Mock as the Nats' No. 5 starter to open the season, huh?
The manner in which Riggleman, Mike Rizzo and other club officials raved about Mock all winter and through the first month of spring training seemed puzzling at times. What exactly prompted such positive reviews?
Then again, it's not all that difficult to understand. Mock has good "stuff." He's the kind of pitcher who looks great throwing in a 10-minute bullpen session. Or during live BP with hitters who are just picking up a bat for the first time all year. Or even in a two- or three-inning exhibition start, when the sample size remains relatively small.
The real Mock never seems to show up until he's asked to pitch more innings in more game-like situations, forced to face the same opposing hitters multiple times in one start. That's where he tends to falter.
Mock has started 18 games in the major leagues over the last two seasons. You know how many times he has lasted more than six innings? Once.
Club officials talk about the progress Mock made late last season. But do you know what his stats were over his final 11 starts? 3-6 with a 5.04 ERA.
And with his latest outing today, his total Grapefruit League numbers for the month read like this: 0-4, 5.30 ERA, 31 baserunners allowed in 18 2/3 innings.
Mock has insisted all along he pays little attention to numbers or results. He's been more concerned with building up his arm strength, aggressively attacking hitters with his best stuff. He feels like he's accomplished his primary goal this spring.
"Regardless of what the line score says, I know the purpose of this is to be ready for the season," he said. Later, he added: "If I go out and just get bent over and spanked, I mean, that's the way it goes. If I go out and have a great game, well, that's fine too."
It may not be fine enough to ensure a place on the team charter to Washington Friday night. You get the sense the Nationals would love for someone else (namely, Scott Olsen or J.D. Martin) to step up and convince the club he deserves the last spot in the rotation.
"We know we're going to pick between [Mock], J.D. and Olsen," Riggleman said. "They're all doing OK. None of them are grabbing the job, you know?"
No, none of them are. Martin pitched in a minor-league intrasquad game today in Viera along with Livan Hernandez, the result of yesterday's rainout. Olsen, meanwhile, is slated to start Friday against the Red Sox in Fort Myers.
Technically, the Nationals don't have to make this decision for almost two more weeks. They don't need a No. 5 starter until April 11, so they could play the season's first five games with an extra bench player or an extra reliever and then make the move. All three pitchers have options, so they can be sent down before Opening Day, then recalled in time to make that start.
It's pretty remarkable, though, that the Nationals now find themselves in this position. Only a week ago, they all but declared Mock a member of the club, even if the right-hander never bought it.
"Pretty much every outing I've been asked that, and I've said it from the get-go," he said. "I'm not going to feel comfortable with anything until I see my name on a lineup card and it says I'm pitching that day. It's out of my control."
That's the problem. Mock had a chance today to take control of his own destiny, to come up big when he needed to most and convince the front office he deserves a job.
Instead, he only left this picture murkier than it was when the day began.