Sunday, March 7, 2010

'Nervous' Chico all business on mound

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Matt Chico, appearing in a big-league game for the first time since 2008, looked sharp.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Matt Chico had pitched against major-league hitters before. Shoot, the guy led the Nationals' staff with 31 starts in 2007 as a rookie.

So why was the left-hander so nervous about a measly, two-inning relief appearance this afternoon against the Mets?

"This felt like my first big-league game in '07," he said. "That's what it felt like. My heart felt like it was jumping out of my chest."

At least Chico managed to throw all of his pitches in the immediate vicinity of the strike zone. This is someone who, after all, once stood on the mound at Dolphin Stadium, reached back and somehow saw his offering land in the third row of the stands behind the first-base dugout.

Nerves or not, Chico has always had an ability to regain his focus. Even after that fateful pitch in Miami three years ago, he came right back seconds later and threw a strike.

And in that same vain, Chico today overcame those early butterflies and quickly established his presence on the mound. He faced six New York batters -- David Wright, Jason Bay, Daniel Murphy, Jeff Francoeur, Alex Cora and Omir Santos -- and retired all six. Two flyouts. Two groundouts. A popout. And a strikeout of Santos on a nifty changeup.

"That was very encouraging," manager Jim Riggleman said. "Both from the standpoint of evaluating him, but still just for the little bit of a feel-good story there for Matt. After what he's gone through the past couple years ... it was just really a very good feeling to see him out there throwing the ball like he did today."

It's been nearly two years since Chico underwent Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, a procedure that sidetracked his career at age 25 but could ultimately resurrect it. Before the surgery, his fastball barely reached 85-86 mph. He surpassed that today, maintaining it in the 87-89 mph range, and he believes he can consistently crack the 90 mph barrier by the time April rolls around and he's gotten a full spring's worth of work in.

Nationals front-office execs watching Chico from the front row today at Tradition Field noted his increased velocity and came away impressed with the lefty's efficient performance.

Two scoreless innings on March 7 aren't going to earn Chico a spot in the Opening Day rotation, but if he keeps this up, don't be surprised to see him at Nationals Park in four weeks. He's still got plenty of supporters in this organization, none more important than general manager Mike Rizzo, who originally selected him in the third round of the 2003 draft while serving as the Diamondbacks' scouting director.

Nats execs like the professionalism and quiet nature in which Chico goes about his business. They like his grit. And they like his chances for success now that he's got better "stuff" to go along with his guile.

Is Chico ever going to be anything more than a back-of-the-rotation starter? Probably not. But the guy did manage to post a respectable 4.63 ERA in those 31 starts as a rookie in 2007, and did so with an elbow that was already beginning to deteriorate.

With plenty of uncertainty swirling around Washington's rotation behind top starters John Lannan and Jason Marquis, it's not difficult to imagine Chico making the trek north at the end of the month and cracking the Opening Day roster.

He's still got plenty left to prove this spring. "Today's over," he said. "I've got to move on."

But for a guy facing a key test in his first appearance against big-league hitters in almost two years, Chico passed with flying colors.


cadeck13 said...

Great feel good story and great picture! I hope Chico makes the rotation. He was an absolute workhorse for us in 2007 and he really does have grit.

Anonymous said...

I'd certainly rather see Chico make the squad than some of the veteran "depth". Glad to see he had a strong outing against the heart of the Mets attack.


peric said...

He's left-handed. Olsen is still recuperating apparently. He has no options left. Have to assume he makes it at least as a left-handed swing man. If he proves he is fully recovered and ready to contribute. Swing man because there doesn't seem to be a need to "force him" into the rotation. Let him start slow ...

Anonymous said...

Mark - great work. I've really enjoyed your reporting from ST.

As I am new here and relatively new to Nats' fandom, can someone please explain to me why Chris Needham is being such an ass about Matt Chico? He was really obnoxious over on Ladson's twitter feed. Seems like Chico has had a long road back and it is really disheartening to see someone with a forum be such a creep about the guy. Hope he was joking.

Princess Jazzy

Anonymous said...

I'd much rather see Chico make it than Livan.

Lannan (l) - Marquis - Chico (l) - Stammen - Mock/Thompson (l)

Sure, the back 3 (heck, maybe all of them) may post ERAs in the 4s in their starts until Strasburg and Wang can come back but I'd consider it more fun than watching Hernandez labor through 6.

SonnyG10 said...

This is a plesant surprise for me that Matt has more velocity. I was used to thinking of him as a real soft tosser, so wasn't all that appreciative of him coming back, but now I'm really looking forward to watching him pitch. Go Matt! Go Nats!

Anonymous said...

Princess Jazzy,

Yes, Chris is cynical and sometimes that manifests itself in not so pleasant ways, but you can only watch the Nationals be run by incompetent boobs for so long before it gets to you.

And Ladson is atrocious. His only purpose is to reinforce whatever the Nationals' brain trust--and I use that term loosely--wants you to think. For example, the Plan is going horribly. It's easy to talk about building through the draft when you ignore how failure is the rule not the exception in the MLB draft. For example, I can't think of any recent draft pick (last 3-4 years) who is meeting or exceeding expectations. I could be wrong, but no one comes to mind.

Bote Man said...

Princess Jazzy, yes, you certainly are new here! Capitol Punishment is the antidote to the blind devotion found on too many a fan blog and forum. That's just Needham being Needham.

To you and all other anonymous posters, you can type your name where it belongs by selecting "Name/URL" from the choices in the 'Comment as' list. It makes it easier to direct comments where they go.

FakeReiss said...

"As I am new here and relatively new to Nats' fandom, can someone please explain to me why Chris Needham is being such an ass about Matt Chico?"

Because he's an ass, plain and simple. He's even more of an ass than my buddies FakeBell, FakeNeedham and myself. Welcome to NatsTown, newbie. You've now met the worst we have to offer.

Les in NC said...

What is the overall "feel" in the clubhouse after these terrible losses this week? I know its the 1st week of ST, but these are some pretty horrible games we, the fans, are suffering through. Are these games weighing on the minds of the National "vets" yet? Or are they still as excited about the way this year has been touted as "the most competitive team we have had to date"?

Anonymous said...

In case anyone is in need of any further proof that Chris Needham is an ass.

Anonymous said...

Whether he is an ass or not aside, more often than not he is spot on in his take on the Nationals. Something that can't be said for, say, Tom Boswell.

Case in point, his latest post on Drew Storen. You'll never hear anyone at WaPo point out that picking Storen was obviously not a "best player available" pick.

Anonymous said...

"It's easy to talk about building through the draft when you ignore how failure is the rule not the exception in the MLB draft. For example, I can't think of any recent draft pick (last 3-4 years) who is meeting or exceeding expectations. I could be wrong, but no one comes to mind."
Dereck Norris.
Jordan Zimmerman.
John Lannan (11 rnd)
Craig Stammen (12 round)

08-09 draft prob too early to tell.

Chris Needham said...

Princess Jazzy -- not sure how you're finding me on Ladson's twitter feed. There's only one reference to me there, which was a response to me. If you're following mine, I'm easy enough to unfollow.

Kevin Reiss said...

I'm disappointed. I was really hoping I was the worst Nats fans have to offer. Now I know how James Cameron must feel.

peric said...

Ian Desmond
Jordan Zimmerman
John Lannan
Craig Stammen
Derrick Norris (but he is still developing and recuperating)
Drew Storen
Steven Strasburg
Danny Espinosa

With Rizzo and his new staff running the drafts it is almost certain
they will make a better showing ... and hopefully, as Stan Kasten
promised, International signings.

Anonymous said...

See, what Chris Needham doesn't know is that when he tweets Ben Goessling @masnNATS during a game with his so-called snark about Matt Chico, every single one of those tweets goes straight out onto Goessling's in-game chat, totally unfiltered. That chat has a wide reach. Why, it probably even makes it into almost heaven West by God Virginia. You'd think Chris Needham would know that, wouldn't you? But he doesn't. Because he's an ass.

FakeReiss said...

Oh Kev. You know that those of us who really know and love you will always think you're the biggest ass around.

Nats fan in NJ said...

This will be an interesting week as folks get a second look and, little by little, some separation occurs. Chico remains my dark horse for the #5 spot in the rotation.

Tigerlily said...

Okay, I am also new to Nats Nation, (due to Pudge going to Washington. Yes, I am a Tiger Fan). I also remember all the cynics etc. on the Tiger train in the early 2000's. You can complain all you want but until you see results on the field, media and fans will show their "ugly side". That being said, I hate hearing some media members bash on young men that are recovering from injury and trying their hardest, it comes with the losing territory. I for one am enjoying learning about a young team and am cheering for them to do well.

natsfan1a said...

Could you fellas maybe get a virtual room and duke it out there so that the rest of us could read about baseball instead of inter-blogger warfare? Oh wait, I guess you are doing that.

Princess Jazzy said...

Mark, My humble apologies for starting inter-blogger warfare (thanks, natsfan1a)on your site.

I appreciate all your hard work and it was not my intention to start such a ruckus! LOL

Since I am new to the Nats online community I had no idea how connected all these blogs are and how thin-skinned such poison pen types are when their cyber character assassinations are commented on.

As I am primarily a Cubs' fan I can certainly understand frustration and futility. I just find it disheartening when those that have no clue about the hard work or dedication it requires to rehab from sports related injuries use their forums to spew such negativity. I want no part of that, believe me.

Snark and satire are fine as well as entertaining but it would be put to much better use when reserved for the much more deserving targets that are always present on a professional sports team.

I, too, am intrigued by the Nats and are rooting for them. Thank you for the kind welcome by some of the regulars here. Here's hoping that the Nats can find some much-needed success this season. If anything, at this point, it certainly seems that the future is bright if not this year, certainly in the next couple of seasons.

Anonymous said...


Rizzo has, for all intents and purposes, running the draft for the last few years. 2007 was the first year, I believe.

I agree with Danny Espinoza and Derek Norris. They've shown promise in A ball and over the next few years could develop nicely. Too early to tell.

Strasburg doesn't count. His expectations are already through the roof. You also can't put Storen in there. Maybe he will pan out, but the deck is stacked heavily against him. The Nationals have much much bigger needs than RP.

Lannan and Stammen were both drafted in '95. I really like Lannan as 3-4 starter, and some day hopefully that will be his role. I'm missing why Stammen is being considered for the rotation. Lack of warm bodies, I guess.

Desmond was drafted by the Expos not the Nationals.

That leaves Jordan Zimmerman.

I'm not meaning to deride Rizzo in criticizing his draft record. My point is that it is really hard to build solely through the draft, and it really helps if you string together several terrible years in a row and draft like the Devil Rays. While the Nationals want people to get excited about their young players, the fact is that there are very few to get excited about despite the fact that we are in Year 3 or 4 of The Plan.

natsfan1a said...

Princess Jazzy, I didn't mean to suggest that you were starting something. There are a few bloggers who are carrying out some sort of feud or something here and on other sites. You're fine.

Virtual Nats said...

I don't get it. There's an unwritten code of decency among bloggers since we don't have an editor editing out questionable expressions of opinion. Chris has a right to share his opinions, and everyone else is free to share their reactions. Let's just keep it civil, okay? Old Senator's fan.

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