Saturday, April 3, 2010

Playing roster roulette

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Scott Olsen could still wind up pitching for the Nats before long.
So the Opening Day roster is set. Garrett Mock, Willy Taveras and Jesse English will be here. Scott Olsen, Roger Bernadina and Livan Hernandez will not. Proof you can never assume anything in spring training, even right down to the final week.

The 25 men who will trot out to the first-base line Monday afternoon during player introductions will include some upgrades from past Opening Day rosters. The bullpen, while hardly fantastic, sure beats last year's Shell-Hinckley-Ledezma bunch. The lineup, while hardly the '27 Yankees, does feature a legitimate leadoff man in Nyjer Morgan, a potent 3-4 punch in Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn and reliable veterans Adam Kennedy and Ivan Rodriguez at the bottom.

And the rotation includes ... well, this might be the most-disappointing part. John Lannan and Jason Marquis are perfectly fine. Ideally, they'd be the Nos. 3 and 4 starters instead of the Nos. 1 and 2 starters, but everyone knew coming in this would be the case.

The bigger concern is the opening 3-4-5 of Craig Stammen, Garrett Mock and Livan Hernandez (who isn't even on the Opening Day roster but will be added in time to start next Sunday in New York). Not to take anything away from those three guys, but their names won't exactly send shivers down the spines of the Phillies, Mets, Brewers, Rockies, Dodgers and Cubs (Washington's first six opponents in April).

Don't however, get too accustomed to those names (or others you'll see here Monday) because there's every reason to believe some of them won't remain on the roster over the long haul.

For most teams, the No. 5 starter is a revolving door position, with pitchers moving in and out of the spot, whether from Class AAA, the bullpen or from other organizations. For the Nats, you should probably think of the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 spots as potential merry-go-rounds.

"Ideally, you'd like to name your five guys and go," manager Jim Riggleman said earlier this week. "But that's not the nature of it. It would be unrealistic to think we're going to start out the season with five starters, and two or three months later still have the same five."

Again, this is not to disparage Stammen, Mock or Hernandez. Each one did what he needed to make this roster, and each one of them could wind up making a significant contribution to the club.

But make no mistake: The leash on each of them will be short, especially in the cases of Stammen and Mock, who still have minor-league options and can be demoted to Syracuse at the first sign of trouble.

"Options" in this case can also refer to a bevy of pitchers waiting in the wings for an opportunity, whether Syracuse starters like Olsen, Matt Chico and J.D. Martin or rehabbing starters like Chien-Ming Wang and Ross Detwiler. Oh yeah, and some guy named Strasburg may figure into this picture before long.

Perhaps, though, the threat of replacement can actually benefit Stammen and Mock. They both appear to be taking the right approach to their unstable statuses.

"Lucky for me, I've never really been given anything, so I'm constantly on edge about staying, not being complacent, not going in with the expectation that being the No. 3 starter means I'm going to be there all year," said Stammen, who allowed three runs over five innings today. "I've got to prove that. I've got to pitch well. If I don't pitch well for the team, they're going to get rid of me. That's just the way it is."

The revolving door could very well apply to the Nationals' bullpen as well, which will consist of eight members for the season's first five days but figures to drop by one once Hernandez is added.

That could mean tough luck for English, far and away the biggest surprise on the Opening Day roster. The 25-year-old lefty, claimed off waivers from the Giants last September in a move hardly anyone noticed at the time, has never pitched above Class AA. So he figured to open the season at Harrisburg, maybe Syracuse.

But then a funny thing happened. Every time the Nationals used him this spring, he made a case for himself. Over 10 appearances spanning 7 2/3 innings, English posted a 3.52 ERA. He saved three games. And, most impressively, he struck out 10 without walking a single batter.

"It was impressive," GM Mike Rizzo said. "It was impressive to see him come in and command the strike zone and not be afraid to throw all his pitches over the plate and really go after hitters."

Just like that, English went from a camp afterthought to major-league reliever. How long will his stint last? Maybe five days. Maybe more. But you can be sure he's not going to take the mound next week for his big-league debut worried about who's looking over his shoulder.

"There's no more mulligans. It's the season now," he said. "So I'm not looking at it as a tryout. I've got to go out there, try to win games and help the team as best as I can."

Whether English, Stammen, Mock and plenty of others who survived the final cutdown get to help the Nationals win for the long haul or the short term remains to be seen.

They'll all get to take the field Monday afternoon and shake hands with the President and play before a sellout crowd. Once the hoopla of Opening Day concludes, the pressure will be on all of them to prove the Nationals made the right decision keeping all of them on the roster.


Bote Man said...

Wake me after the All-Star Game.

Anonymous8 said...

Bernadina worked his butt off and put up really good numbers and was rewarded with a plane ticket to Syracuse.

Mock over Olsen? I thought the old saying is it doesn't matter how you start, it is how you finish. Olsen blew Mock away the last part of Spring Training.

Like someone said, Mock is to Rizzo what Kearns was to Bowden. I hope this marriage works out a lot better!

Doc said...

Great 'Opening Day' seasonal prologue for us Nats fans, Mark!

Ken said...

When I read about the final roster moves, I had to look at the calender to make sure it wasn't really April 1st. The final pitching choices and how the Nats front office will proceed over the next week, is a joke.

EIGHT, count 'em, EIGHT relievers, in my opinion, is an act of desperation. Or maybe it's the front office sending a message to the starting pitchers, that management has zero confidence in their ability to pitch deep into games.

These moves, going with 8 relievers, replacing Hernandez with Mock in the sequence of things, giving Mock a spot in the rotation over Olsen, who's better at 90% than Mock is at 100% every day of the week.

This spring has been a collection of head scratching moves, bad organization skills by the manager, and although it's been more exciting than most, thanks to the presence of Strasburg and Storen, it has done nothing to raise my confidence in Mike Rizzo. I never liked Riggleman, now I'm starting to wonder about Rizzo's methods.

I know, time will tell, and I know that once late May or early June arrives, things will be, not just more interesting, but more fun, but Nats deserve better than the bush league moves they've been getting.

Anonymous said...

Souldrummer says-
I think the outfield situation was about who could handle a part-time role since they kind of decided that they wanted to give Harris the bulk of the at bats against righties. I think they believe Bernadina need at bats coming off of his year off. Go prove it at Syracuse. We're also starting to see why they cut Dukes. Who is Syracuse's starting outfield? Right now its Bernadina and Maxwell and somebody else. Don't know who that is, but they didn't want that to be Dukes.

Anonymous said...


I know Livan won't be on the 25-man roster come Opening Day, but will he still be with the team (like physically will he be in DC on Monday)?

Chris said...


Take a deep breath and step away from the ledge my man.

The Nats are keeping 8 relievers because Livan isn't on the 25 right now. Once it's his turn in the rotation the pen will be trimmed to 7. It's actually a pretty common practice across MLB. Would you rather have Bruntlett or Bernadina? What possible role could they serve with AlGo and Tavares already on the roster?

And there's nothing wrong with Olsen getting another start or two in AAA to build up his arm strength. Nothing at all. He's not ready to go 7 or 8 innings.

So I ask, what other moves this Spring made you scratch your head? And please don't tell me Dukes.

peric said...

I disagree with picking Hernandez over Olsen and yet ...

What I don't agree with is sending a VALUABLE (maybe more than JZimmm Mike?) left hander just recovering from shoulder surgery to? Syracuse? Mike, Mike what are you thinking? I was born there. You need to send him to extended spring training in Florida NOT SYRACUSE. The same with Wang at least not until late May!!!!!!!?

Now as far as Mock? Okay if he is trade bait along with Burnett fine. But why do we have 41 (and probably closer to 50) year old Batista he of the rubber arm? That is also Riggleman's choice. Let the fifth starter wait until May ... and while we're at it 50 year old Hernandez? He looks older than me for crying out loud? What are you thinking? Is this an old boys' network or a major league baseball team? Hernandez is older than you Mike and likely so is Batista. Stop that horse hockey before it gets you in trouble?

Mock is fine.Trade Burnett and Mock for prospects and then bring Olsen back into the fray. We will all be good with that. Just send Olsen to Florida not Syracuse in April ... at least for this year.

peric said...

"So I ask, what other moves this Spring made you scratch your head? And please don't tell me Dukes."

Wanting to get Guzman (who never WALKS and MUST bat second) 400-500 at bats over a better offensive player in Mike Morse?

There is a lot more that is screwy dude.

Anonymous said...

Holy crap! some of you guys made a wrong turn and are on the wrong site. Move it on over and post some of your doomsday stuff some place else. It gets very tiring to read and the season has not started yet. Honestly!

Anonymous said...

peric, for a long time I thought the people commenting about how they would pay to see your comments removed were severely overreacting, but I'm starting to rethink my position. You are a textbook "armchair analyst," and hearing you constantly bash not just the questionable actions but the routine ones (e.g. optioning JZimm to Syracuse) as well as stating things that simply aren't true as fact (nobody wants Dukes, it has been clear for awhile; nobody is optioning a decent right fielder right now, least of all Church, calling Mike Morse a better offensive player than Guzman when all he had done this spring training is reveal that he can't hit major league pitching). Just relax and enjoy the game.

Andrew said...

Not sure if Rizzo is a poker player and giving us his best poker face----I sure hope so.

I just hope he has some tricks up his sleeve.

I don't expect the Nats 2010 team to be a playoff team but I do expect them to be competitive.

Doesn't start off easy with Roy Halladay and the Phillies.

Mr. Doggett said...

It really doesn't matter what "message the front office is sending by keeping 8 relievers." What matters is that they do the best they can to keep their heads above water until June. If the Nats can stay anywhere near .500 until then, we might just have something here...

And the Mets SUCK!

So stay positive!

Sunderland said...

I honestly don't understand the "stay positive" and "I do expect them to be a competitive team" thinking.
This team has gotten worse each of the years that the Lerners have owned it.
We had a better MLB product in 2005 than we have today.
The Lerners have shortchanged the development of the Nats and the farm system by drafting for signability, drafting guys much earlier than they deserve and signing them on the cheap.
We've lost 100 games two years in a row.
We have a very large market to draw fans and income from.
Forbes estimates that the Nationals have generated higher profits than almost every other team over the last two years.
Our bullpen stinks, our rotation is subpar, our fielding is subpar, our bench will be among the least productive in the NL.

Yes, Strasburg is coming. Yes *maybe* Wang will be good, *maybe* Zimmermann will be solid next year, *maybe* Detwiler and Storen and yada, yada, yada.

Is there some progress being made. Yes.
But it's far too small and far too slow.

Competitive? Not a chance.
Positive? It's hard. In all seriousness, I can't be positive, but being negative is no fun at all. So I'll just try and deal with reality, which is another lousy season on the horizon.

If we lose 95 games, and the Mets lose 97, so what?

And very much looking forward to tomorrow.

Mr. Doggett said...

Well, as a fan, if you're not going to be positive at the beginning of the season, when can you be?

I'd rather get excited and risk disappointment later instead of just maintaining low expectations and fixating on the past.

But I guess that's just a matter of opinion.

Anonymous said...

Peric lends truth to the one of the oldest truths in the book: It is far, far better to remain silent and have people think you an idiot than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

greg said...

i have to chuckle when people rant and rave about things being horrible moves that are just simple baseball common sense.

for example, moving mock into the #4 slot and putting livo in the #5. completely done to stall having to add livo to the 40/25 man roster and delay having to make a roster decision. just a smart baseball move.

Anonymous said...

The Nats may not be very good, but I still am very excited about the first game. Let's take them one at a time. It is looong season, anything can happen at this point.

Wally said...

I had an off topic question on Adam Dunn.

I watched yesterday's game, and while I thought that Dunn looked acceptable at first, including making a nice backhanded grab, one thing puzzled me. When there is a runner on first, he didn't hold them on in the normal way. He kind of assumed a defensive position, albeit very close to the bag. Is this his normal way of holding a runner on, was he taught to do it this way (hard to imagine), or was something unusual going on? Has anything been written or said about this?

It doesn't look like it would be very effective at keeping runners close.

PDowdy83 said...

For everybody that is complaining about the team not being any better than last year, I'd have to argue pretty hard with you about it. Adam kennedy is a big upgrade of Anderson Hernandez, Pudge is an upgrade over Bard, while it would be nice to have Flores around, that isn't exactly Rizzo's fault that he is hurt. He went out and got a guy with good defense, which lets face it, was not Bard's strong suit.

Rizzo also went out and got an entirely new bullpen. Is it great? Maybe not, but why don't you all wait to pass judgement on it til maybe the end of April. If they haven't thrown 10 or 11 games away at that point, it is an improvement over last year.

Also does anybody really think Elijah was going to miraculously break out and hit 30 hrs this year? That would be the last bit of Jim Bowden koolaid somepeople drank I guess. A combination of Willie Harris and somebody else will get on base more and make less stupid plays in the outfield. The only thing about Dukes worth missing is his cannon of an arm in RF, but he wasn't even that accurate with it.

I guess my point is, why the hell be negative before opening day when it is a new season and the team actually finished pretty strongly in spring training after that 0-11 start.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Wally: Dunn has been working on that "holding a runner on first" technique all spring. I think it's basically a way for him to get into better position for a grounder hit his way. Doesn't always look pretty, but that's the thinking behind it.

peric said...

Peric wore a winter coat on the 4th of July in Syracuse. He also threw snowballs hard enough to screw up his elbow in the cold weather up there near the Finger Lakes.

Peric also knows that Strasburg, Thompson, Detwiler, Olsen, JD Martin and Storen seem like better choices than Hernandez, Batista, Mock, Burnett, Bergmann, and Walker.

Chris said...

Mike Morse is a better offensive player than Guzzie? Ok, I've heard it all now.

And what's wrong with wanting to get Guzzie AB's this Spring? He was coming off shoulder surgery.

You are absolutely clueless, Peric.

Oh, and stop addressing Rizzo in your posts. Believe me, he doesn't care what you think.

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