Monday, March 29, 2010

Waiting for resolutions

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Today's game against the Mets has been rained out.
[UPDATE AT 12:36 P.M. -- No split-squad game tomorrow, they couldn't get another opponent. So Livan Hernandez and a few other pitchers will stay back here and play in a minor-league intrasquad game while just about every else heads to Jupiter for the regularly scheduled game against the Marlins.]

[UPDATE AT 12:05 P.M. -- The Nationals' No. 4 starter will be ... Livan Hernandez. Jim Riggleman confirmed that just a little while ago, though it was pretty obvious that would be the case for some time. The final spot will go to either Garrett Mock, Scott Olsen or J.D. Martin. The decision could be made before the club leaves Florida, but it could also be held off until after the season has begun since the fifth starter isn't needed until April 11. Factors that will be taken into consideration, according to Riggleman; Health, performance, track record. Each guy will get to pitch once more this spring, and it's safe to say whoever pitches best will have a leg up on the rest.]

[UPDATE AT 10:12 A.M. -- Today's game has been postponed due to rain. No word yet if it will be made up as a split-squad game tomorrow.]

VIERA, Fla. -- Good morning from rainy Space Coast Stadium. It's been pouring since last night, hasn't let up since and there are serious doubts today's home finale against the Mets will be played. But we're still awaiting official word of that.

If this game is called off, it's going to be tough for the Nationals to make it up. They'd like to schedule a split-squad tomorrow against the Mets, but New York already has split-squad games scheduled today and will want to try to make the other one up tomorrow. So it's not an ideal situation.

We're also awaiting official word of the state of the Nationals starting rotation. Manager Jim Riggleman is meeting right now with GM Mike Rizzo and pitching coach Steve McCatty to discuss different possibilities. Riggleman did confirm earlier this morning that John Lannan, Jason Marquis and Craig Stammen will start the first three games of the season against the Phillies. The rest is yet to be determined.

So what's really going on here? I think it boils down to this: Scott Olsen's strong start yesterday, coupled with Garrett Mock's slight regression over the last couple weeks, has forced the Nationals to reconsider what looked like a pretty set picture not long ago.

Livan Hernandez's presence also throws a bit of a wrench into the situation. Make no mistake, Livo is all but certain to make the club. But because he's on a minor-league contract, the Nats could conceivably push him back to the No. 5 slot and then not need to add him to the roster until April 11. That would buy them some extra time and a chance to keep either an extra bench player or reliever through the season's first five games.

As for the No. 4 slot, it basically comes down to Mock or Olsen. Riggleman and Rizzo had been praising Mock all spring and even lumping him in with Lannan and Marquis as the three sure things about the rotation. So what happened? Well, Mock got hit around a bit in a minor-league start last week, and then Olsen went and looked strong yesterday.

In discussing Mock's situation, Riggleman drew a comparison to the club's recently finalized shortstop situation, with Ian Desmond beating out Cristian Guzman.

"It's not like Guzman isn't playing good, because he is playing good," the manager said. "But Desmond might be the best player in camp this spring. Stammen and Livo have just thrown better than everybody. So it's hard to ignore what they're doing."

Mock, it should be pointed out, has minor-league options. He also makes slightly more than the league minimum ($400,000) and would make a minor-league salary if he's at Class AAA. Olsen is making $1 million if he's on any roster in the Nats organization after Wednesday.

To summarize: This thing is still very much up in the air.

Not up in the air is the possibility of Stephen Strasburg pitching against the Red Sox on Saturday at Nationals Park. Riggleman put to rest any thought of that today, reaffirming what had seemed obvious for a while now. There's just very little to be gained from having Strasburg pitch in that game, aside from the PR value, and that's the last thing the Nats front office is considering when mapping out their prize prospect's development plan.


JayB said...


Do you buy that nobody has a Radar reading on Olsen last start?

Jaxpo Nat said...

Any word on Olsen's fastball speed yesterday? I know the stadium gun wasn't working, but I'm assuming the Nats had their own...?

James Bjork said...

Dick's Sporting Goods sells baseball radar guns for under a grand. With a $750k decision on the line, I too can't believe they wouldn't have a gun (or a scout with one) on hand.

Anonymous said...


sjm105 said...

Maybe I am missing something. What is so important about his speed? Do they care when Moyer or Hernandez throws. He pitched 5+ innings got most major league hitters to make outs and had no pain. It seems like some people just need intrigue, its baseball. You throw the ball, they either hit the ball or miss it, we catch it or miss it and life goes on. I see no reason to release him, although it's not my money. I see him as an asset, either on our staff or as trade material if he improves even more. You just can't have enough pitchers.

JayB said...

Like I said....last week coaches in minor league camp had several guns....they were getting readings on each pitcher on 3 fields....Mark why so silent on this subject....all we really want is a boots on the ground confirmation that this is BS....maybe they have their reasons and saying I don't know is a plausible deniablity thing but at least weigh in please.

Sjm...lots of factors go into pitching...speed of fastball vs change up is a big one for Olsen.....Just like always, Nats are being less than honest saying they do not know the numbers.

Section 222 said...

I'll be disappointed if they put Olson in the rotation based on one good start. Why not send him to Syracuse to keep strengthening his arm and sharpening his command, and then bring him up when he's really ready? They can decide then whether he ought to replace Mock, Stammen, or Livo.

It makes complete sense in making these decisions to factor in whether a player has options remaining, but this continual talk about their salaries is really, really annoying. THE LERNER'S ARE BILLIONAIRES. For goodness sakes, put the best team possible on the field for the fans who buy the tickets and the beer and quit worrying about a few hundred thousand here and there. If you didn't want to pay Olson a million dollars, or Mock a few hundred K more if he makes the 25 man roster, then you shouldn't have signed him to the deal you did. Sheesh.

Then again, maybe all the talk about salaries is just sportswriters' speculation. Mark, is there any evidence that the financial implications have any weight at all in these final decisions? If so, what do you think of that, given the sentence in ALL CAPS above?

Jaxpo Nat said...

sjm105: Normally I'd agree, I'm not big on the philosophy that you HAVE TO throw hard. HOWEVER, in Olsen's case it is an indication of his recovery from surgery, so it is more significant. It indicates his progression in rebuilding his strength, which he himself has indicated is not all the way back yet.

Anonymous said...

Shenanigans, indeed. Is our leadership really making decisions on promotions and demotions based on one minor league start after several strong major league starts?

This has everything to do with not wanting to pay Olsen $1m to be the #1 starter in Syracuse. I agree with not dumping him, but sending Mock down on the basis of one shaky minor-league start is shenanigans.

Brian R. said...

I like the use of the same rainout picture for every rained-out game. And I'm not being sarcastic - I DO like it; it's kind of quaint and makes me smile.

Anonymous said...

Sec 222-
I think Mark is pretty clear when he notes, "Mock, it should be pointed out..." that it's his conjecture, not attributed to the team. But he's followed them closely for five years, so whether they said it or not, it has to be considered a factor.

Also, I would guess that billionaires get to be billionaires by paying a lot of attention to lots of six-digit dollar decisions on a daily basis.

Doc said...

If you have both Mock and Olsen under contract what difference does it make about having one in the rotation, and one working it out in Syracuse. Olsen is still a work in progress. Mock had some mediocre starts, of recent time. But, unlike Olsen, Mock's physical status is not an issue. Starting rotations change by the month. All Rizzo has to do is make a decision for the next 4 weeks--it's not that hard!

Mark Zuckerman said...

To answer all the velocity questions ... I asked both Olsen and Riggleman today if they know what his readings were, and they both had no idea. The stadium radar gun was apparently not functioning for several days, and while there were some scouts in attendance with guns of their own, neither the manager nor the left-hander was privy to that information.

peric said...

Ask the scouts.

estuartj said...

Or plan C is keep Olsen & Mock with 1 being the #5 starter and the other in the Bullpen. I ultimately think both will continue their career their, especially since by the end of May Strasburg, Detwiler and Wang will all be competing for rotation slots - making at least 2 of Mock, Olsen, Stammen & Livo expendable.

foolio said...


I think you buried the news. If Olsen is guaranteed to make another start this spring, then they've determined to keep his contract, right?

sjm105 said...

Thanks guys: I agree with Jaxpo that coming off an injury it might be a telling sign but he is still recovering and I have no reason to think the Nats are hiding anything. Nothing I can say would change the minds of those who think the FO is not being honest. Bottom line is we have great competition for the # 5spot, more help on the way in a month or two and I don't see Odalis Perez or Daniel Cabrera on this roster.

Go Nats

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