Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The ace of a deep and talented rotation

US Presswire photo
Stephen Strasburg will start Opening Day, with Gio Gonzalez starting the home opener.
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals could have handed the ball on Opening Day to any one of their top four starters, and few would have raised an eyebrow. Gio Gonzalez is a 16-game winner and All-Star. Edwin Jackson has pitched in the midsummer classic and the World Series. Jordan Zimmermann was this team's best starter last year.

But when it came to making their choice, manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty didn't agonize much at all. They knew Stephen Strasburg was the best choice.

Why? Allow McCatty to explain.

"Because I still have the lasting impression of seeing him in the past and that game in Miami when he struck out 10 [to end the 2011 season]," the pitching coach said. "The guy's a No. 1 starter. Gio's done great. All the guys are doing great. But Stephen is who he is. And I'm knocking anybody else, but here's a guy that is pretty special. You send your No. 1 guy out there. In my opinion, he's it."

For a franchise that over the years has struggled to find anyone worthy of Opening Day honors -- the four previous pitchers to do it were Livan Hernandez (2005-06, 2011), John Patterson (2007), Odalis Perez (2008) and John Lannan (2009-10) -- it's pretty remarkable that the Nationals had as many as four legitimate options for the job this spring.

"Zim could be that guy," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "Gio could be that guy. Edwin's pitched in the World Series. John's thrown 200-some [innings], been consistent. ... I think we're very lucky to have that. It's a luxury, but I think Stras is obviously able to handle it."

Indeed, how could the Nationals not give the ball on April 5 to Strasburg, who may be short on career accomplishments but more than makes up for it with the dominance he's displayed during his 19 big-league starts?

Some would say the naming of the Opening Day starter is overblown, much ballyhooed by the media and fans but not all that significant to players inside the clubhouse.

That may be partially true, but there's more to it. Johnson didn't just name Strasburg his Opening Day starter this morning. He anointed the 23-year-old as the ace of his staff. The guy who will set the tone for everyone else. The guy who will be asked to snap losing streaks, out-pitch fellow aces and lead the entire club into battle every fifth day.

There's a lot of responsibility that comes with the title of "No. 1 starter." And the Nationals believe Strasburg not only can handle it, but relishes it as well.

"I'm sure he took that as an honor," McCatty said. "That's something he wants. You all know he's driven in what he wants. And for him to be the No. 1, I'm sure he felt good about it."

Strasburg's teammates sense that as well.

"I think he wants to be that guy," Zimmerman said. "He wants to be the guy that throws 200-something innings and wins 20 games. I think he works hard to try and become that."

In some clubhouses, there could be resentment over a young starter with so little experience being handed the designation of staff ace. Not in this one.

"He's the right man for the job," said Gonzalez, who is in line to start the April 12 home opener against the Reds. "I'm just excited to be a part of the rotation, anywhere. I don't care if I was the No. 5 guy, as long as I'm out there pitching."

Strasburg, in his typical unassuming manner, tried to downplay the significance of this morning's announcement.

"It's a tremendous honor, but there's still a lot of work to be done," he said. "And it's just one game. Hopefully the games will be mattering a lot more at the end of the year for us."

For that to happen, the Nationals will need not only Strasburg to give them a chance to win every fifth day but the rest of this deep and talented rotation as well. This team will go as far as its starters take it.

Fortunately, the group as a whole has pitched quite well this spring. The ERAs are a bit misleading, but every one of them has looked dominant at times. None of this matters, of course, until the bell rings and they start playing games that actually count.

But with two weeks to go, the Nationals have every reason to believe their pitching staff can compete with anyone in baseball and make this team a contender right now.

It all starts April 5, with the game's most dynamic young pitcher toeing the rubber at Wrigley Field.

"It's awesome," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "Let him go set the precedent, and then let the other guys follow suit."

64 comments:

The Great Unwashed said...

Well I'm glad the pitching seems to be in good shape because the hitting sure isn't.

Gonat said...

Starting pitching looks great. Bullpen looks good. Hitting has a long way to go.

Cwj said...

Very nice Mark!
My favorite Nats topic: Nats Pitching!
Lets leave the hitting for other threads.

Stras is obviously the best pitcher in the rotation. Historically, your best pitcher starts opening day.
And as Mark pointed out, he's the ace as well. And that may be an understatement. He'd be the ace of probably 25 teams!

An excellent rotation to look forward to watching pitch in tons of 4-3, 3-2, 2-1 and 1-0 victories this season. No doubt.

A DC Wonk said...

Fore!! (got it!!!)

Unkyd said...

Midseason fo, Wonk!!! :)

Unkyd said...

Form....(looks like I need a few more hacks, however...)

Gonat said...

Steve M. said...
I really think Lombardozzi needs to play in Syracuse and play some outfield. His value as a switch-hitting Mr. Everything would be huge on this team.

February 15, 2012 11:41 AM
__________________________________

Steve, I know you mentioned this a few times on Lombo. I was looking for posts about Harper playing CF and found 2 posts you made about Lombo playing the outfield.

As usual you were ahead of the curve, and yes, I am kissing up.

Unkyd said...

Very unattractive, Gonat.... Nobody likes a kissup... Stevie will play with you again... You just have to keep smiling, and try not to share as much...

Although.... I think SteveM said something about his car needing to be washed.....;-)

Doc said...

Nice article, Grantland...er Mark!

You have a way of capturing the heart and soul of this team.

Thanks!

Gonat said...

Unkyd, he read your post and texted me that he isn't mad but does want his car washed. LOL Thanks for cutting the ice! Good suggestion!

Unkyd said...

HAHAHA!!!

Section 222 said...

Batting Perry in the 9th is a good example of how Davey's a players' manager.

Actually, turns out that Perry was the last man standing. There was no one else left to hit. But why let the facts get in the way of a little DJ worship?

sm13 said...

The 2010 Giants reminded us that great pitching can carry a team to a championship. Let's keep that image in mind as we watch Stas throw out that first pitch.

Priest Kristoph said...

hey all, new poster here.

Are we supposed to get e-mail notice when our Take Back the Park tickets are in the mail?

I heard that they come in a non-descript envelope, and I'm a little worried that they might have been discarded by accident...:(

sm13 said...

I didn't get an email. The tix came in an envelope with a Texas return address.

Anonymous said...

Priest.. no email notice on the take back the park. Sadly just a plain envelope

natsfan1a said...

I didn't get an email either. My tix came in a plain envelope with a Texarkana, Texas, P.O. Box return address. If they've sent the tix your credit card statement should show that charge.

natsfan1a said...

The charge line item, btw, should say Tickets WA Nationals as usual.

Cwj said...

No more comments about this deep rotation or Strasburg leading the charge?

Wow, some of you might be focusing way too much on the offense (of bench players during ST), me thinks.

Cwj said...

Perhaps I could stimulate the conversation a bit by saying the Nats rotation is top 3 in the National League, the bullpen is top 4.

Cwj said...

Don't force me to post my starting rotation stat projections again! :-)

Oh yeah that reminds me, I need to put up my bullpen projections. I have no blog, so I'll post them around here sometime soon.
Perhaps tomorrow :-)

Section 3, My Sofa said...

You squared that one up nicely, Wonk!

Priest Kristoph said...

if they did get discarded, do you suppose there's any recourse? I still have the e-mail receipt with confirmation #

Cwj said...

Priest Kristoph- I'm sorry, I have no idea.
Looks like everyone else went to bed early tonight.

Priest Kristoph said...

yeah, I'll just call the ticket office tomorrow. Thanks for your help, everyone!

NatsLady said...

My tickets for the Phillies series came in two plain envelopes with a return address of 1500 So. Capital Street (DC). However, I ordered them by telephone, not online--as I am averse to paying the fees.

My STH tickets came by FedEx; actually, they will come tomorrow since I had to leave a signed card on the door.

Livan Hernandez said...

Sure, NOW you're sorry. I told you so.

Cwj said...

Not many night owls here :-)
Pretty much like living where I do in the mountains of WV.
Everyone except me goes to bed early, and wakes up early.
:-)
True though.

A DC Wonk said...

cwj, I'm a night owl, too . . .

You wrote:

Perhaps I could stimulate the conversation a bit by saying the Nats rotation is top 3 in the National League, the bullpen is top 4.

Sounds about right, although, this might be the year that MPHRod breaks out, and if Drew and Clip hold to form . . . might be better than top 4.

Cwj said...

Hey DC Wonk!
Yeah I believe the same about Rodriguez.
Clippard and Storen will do their thing. And then imagine if Lidge stays healthy all year?

Storen, Clippard, Lidge, Rodriguez is a fearsome bullpen indeed.
The Nats pitching is absolutely loaded, in my opinion.

JaneB said...

If you didn't get the tickets, or think you discarded them by accident, they will replace the seats. Just do it before the day of the game, because that day will be really busy. Especially since you have your receipt, still, it shouldn't be hard.

Dave said...

I got my season tickets yesterday. (I picked them up at a FedEx Kinko's, as I had arranged.)

I have a question for other STH's: Did you get your Red Carpet Rewards card(s) in the box? There's a brochure that explains how they work, but no cards in my box.

I've been a STH since 2006, so I remember how it worked last year. I'm pretty sure I discarded last year's cards, since there was no indication I was to keep them from season to season.

I'll call the ticket office today, but I was just curious as to others' experience.

jeeves said...

Agree Wonk and Cwj. Third in starting behind Philadelphia and San Fran. But I think our fourth and fifth might be better then theirs. Unless Vogelsong is for real. I think our bullpen is number two behind Atlanta's. So with the Phil's aging starters, a number four and five not as good as the Nats, and definitely an inferior bullpen, could it possibly be that, overall, the Nat's pitching might actually be better than the Phil's. Afterall, our top three staters, the one area I've conceded to the Phillies, are not exactly chopped liver.

Ernie said...

Dave -

I'm not positive, but I think last year when they issued the red plastic cards (instead of the paper stock ones they had used in the past) they said something about holding onto the cards because they would be adding more features (or benefits or something along those lines) over time. I'm not positive, but I think that they are referring to those cards they sent last season.

I stuck mine in my wallet and never took it out, but the ink has pretty much worn off of it by now so it's pretty much a hunk of red plastic at this point. I'm not sure how useful that will be...

NatsLady said...

Here is a piece of good news on the Ian Desmond front:

Nicasio has solidified one of the rotation spots for the Rockies in 2012. He boasts a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings pitched this spring. He has made a remarkable recovery from his gruesome neck injury late last season.

Desi, being human after all and not just a fan punching bag, must have had flashbacks, and maybe he held back a little, or tried to fix his swing so he would not hit straight line comebackers...

baseballswami said...

Saw a replay of the event on the 30 club series about the rockies. So glad he is recovering. The mlb guys were remaking about how much intestinal fortitude it must take to go back out there. I am sure that Desi has been deeply affected by it. Intellectually he knows it's not his fault, but emotionally it's a different story.

Feel Wood said...

I have a question for other STH's: Did you get your Red Carpet Rewards card(s) in the box? There's a brochure that explains how they work, but no cards in my box.

The hard plastic red cards (similar to a credit card) that they sent out last year were supposed to be retained for future use, as it said in the materials they sent out last year. Mine says "Member since 2007" on it, and I used it at the box office the day single game sales began this year to get the STH rate on the tickets I bought.

You should be able to get the ticket office to issue you a replacement card, but it might take a while. But the only time actually having the card really matters is when you're physically at the box office or the team store showing it to get the discount. Otherwise, for Red Carpet Rewards and such, all you need is your account # and password to do it online.

Nats1924 said...

given Stras's inning's limit and JZimm being our ace last year, I kinda woulda liked to see the ball go to JZim on opening day.

But, im still ok with Stras being selected.

natsfan1a said...

Ah, so maybe the online Take Back the Park orders (which I did) issue tix from TX and the phone orders from DC.

NatsLady said...

My tickets for the Phillies series came in two plain envelopes with a return address of 1500 So. Capital Street (DC). However, I ordered them by telephone, not online--as I am averse to paying the fees.

My STH tickets came by FedEx; actually, they will come tomorrow since I had to leave a signed card on the door.
March 21, 2012 10:50 PM

320R2S15 said...

Did I see where Desi got three hits yesterday? maybe there is hope. Now if cousin it can get it started, we might be in business.

Anonymous said...

320R2S15 said...

And a walk.

Tcostant said...

The attached article is about baseball right fees; Forber did a huge spread on the business of baseball. While not talking about the Nationals directly, I am now convinced that the next rights fees will be at least $70M a year, a huge increase over the current (just less then $30M a year). This is a must read for all baseball fans.

Sorry to go off topic.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/tomvanriper/2012/03/21/the-new-moneyball/print/

fast eddie said...

And his 4th error of the spring. But let's not just pick on Desi. Any Espi haters out there. He went 0-5 and is hitting under .200.
Will we see Lombo and Rendon taking over by the All-Star break?

Diz said...

I called my ticket rep at the Nats and inquired about the Red Carpet Cards.

He said they are taking names for those people who did not save the cards from last year or have misplaced them and will be ordering new cards in the next couple of weeks.

He didn't say how long they would take, but if you were lucky enough to save yours from last year....or have a wife who did ;-), you are probably better off.

MicheleS said...

Tcostant.. Excellent article on the TV Fees. I would be really curious for an update on the Nats rights. Isn't that supposed to be resolved soon? Any bump in the TV rights would pay for RZ/Werth contracts out right and then maybe our Stras Renewal and BHarp.

Tcostant said...

NatsLady can you illustrate on how you avoid fees via the phone? Did you just call your rep, I’m also fee adverse but would like to know who you called and if you avoided all fees or just less fees.

NatsLady said...

Tcostant--I avoid all fees, just as if you walk up to the box-office (which I do, when it's open).

To contact the Nationals via phone, please call: 202.675.NATS(6287)

You may have to go through some menus, but you will eventually get to very nice and helpful people.

Section 3, My Sofa said...

Speaking of setting the precedent, any word on who's throwing out the first pitch at the home opener?

NatsLady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A DC Wonk said...

As for starting on opening day . . . a number of folks here have said that JZ has earned it and would like to have seen him start.

As for me, however, I'm with Davey on this. It's opening day, the other team is going with their best, and so I want to see the best Nats pitcher out there, period. I'd much rather start the season at 1-0 than 0-1. JZ is a great pitcher, perhaps top 10 in the NL. But Stras, if he's in form like the end of last year, is better.

Yeah, Stras has an innings limit, but starting opening day rather than a few games later isn't going to change that. So, we might get one less start from him in Sept at the cost of one more start in April -- but the wins count as much in either month.

(Let's review: after coming back from TJ, Stras didn't have total command of all his pitches, and yet in five starts in Sept still posted a 1.50 ERA and absurdly low 0.708 WHIP -- his last game pitching 6 innings, allowing only 1 hit, and striking out 10). And he was only 22 (and has a career WHIP of under 1.00)

JZ is a great pitcher. Outstanding. A #1 on most teams. Stras, OTOH, assuming he never gets any better but just maintains (!), is a first ballot Hall-of-Fame lock. (Yes, yes, of course, it's way too early, and that's a huge assumption: but the potential is clearly there. But, note, even making that assumption with other pitchers, there's nobody out there his age about whom you can say that).

NatsLady said...

NatsJack, if you are around, I got further nonsense from the MLB.tv people about support for Android ("will be available by opening day, April 5"--which ISN'T opening day if you count Japan).

HOWEVER-- there is an app, a great and FREE app that will let you watch anything that is on your PC on your android devices. There is no sound (for that you pay $14.99). It's a little slow because it passes through the cloud, but it works. The same app is available for Apple devices. (This app has many implications, which I will leave to the user as it is probably worth my life to post online what you can avoid with this app and a friend who lives in another city...).

NatsLady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MJR said...

From the previous thread (had a rehearsal last night so just catching up on Nats news this AM)...thanks to everyone who explained the LannEn spelling thing. I've always liked John...just seems like a very steady guy with a good sense of who he is. Some would have developed a pretty deep shoulder chip given the dynamics of the off-season and spring training. But he seems to be taking it in stride and willing to let the chip(s) fall...as it were. I'm totally on the bandwagon now...every 5th day, LannEn it is!

NatsJack on Florida said...

NatsLady...thanks but my "At Bat Lite" has been working fine. Once I logged in my MLB.tv password, At Bat Lite provides the tv feeds with sound without having to reenter any onfo.

Section 3, My Sofa said...

Just looking at that picture closely, is it me or are his fingers not parallel? A little "pigeon-toed" you might say, closer at the tips than the middle.

NatsLady said...

Christmas (Strasmas?) in March. FedEx guy at my door with a red box! So many things in the box--and such small print--how will I figure out what to do with all the bennies? I am relying on you guys to help out a novice STH.

Also, help me with the weather for the Reds series with all the giveaways. I might take the whole weekend off work. Of course, I have the opening day "ticket" which is actually a plastic card, so I assume a souvenir.

Les in NC said...

10:12 and no new post from MZ?! Anyone heard anything from him? Will he be needing TJ surgery? Ack!

....jonesing here, if you can't tell.

NatsLady said...

NJ, yes, I remember that now. You got lucky, my At-Bat light only gives the audio, not even the icon for TV. I do get the video highlights, and those are great.

NatsLady said...

Patience, Les in NC. As you see, there is a new post now!

Section 222 said...

@Tcostant, @NatsLady et al. -- In previous years, when I ordered additional tickets through my Nats season ticket rep, there were no service charges (plus the tickets are sold at the STH rate, which is less than the single game price). This year, they have instituted a $5 charge per order, regardless of the number of tickets purchased (prices are still at the STH rate). Still better than the charges you incur online, through StubHub etc., but not the bargain it once was.

For those who are not STHs, going to the box office remains the best deal. But if you can get an STH to get your tickets, the savings are not insignificant, even with the $5 charge, and the convenience can't be beat.

I understand that an email will go out soon about Red Carpet Rewards and My Nationals Tickets. Better late than never I guess.

natsfan1a said...

I think Gio's in line for it.

Section 3, My Sofa said...

Speaking of setting the precedent, any word on who's throwing out the first pitch at the home opener?
March 22, 2012 9:52 AM

rmoore446 said...

My Phillies tickets arrived early this week. No mention of baseball or the Nationals on the envelope just a return address of Texarkana Texas. The postmark was March 15.

Section 3, My Sofa said...

No, but thanks, 1a. I meant First Pitch, not starting, as in Precedent of the United States.

natsfan1a said...

Oh, duh.

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