Thursday, October 7, 2010

The importance of power pitching

Photo courtesy Bill Scheuerman
Chien-Ming Wang pitched one inning yesterday in the Florida instructional league.
After the shock and wonder of Roy Halladay throwing a no-hitter in the first postseason start of his career wore off, two thoughts came to mind...

1. With Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels still to come, how on earth is anyone going to beat the Phillies this month?

2. How on earth can the Nationals ever get to a point where something like that becomes possible?

The short answer to No. 1: The only NL team I can see even having a chance of beating the Phillies is San Francisco, and only if Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez are equal to or better than Philadelphia's Big Three.

The longer answer to No. 2: The only way the Nationals are ever going to find themselves in a position to do something like that is to keep adding power arms to their system, hoping several emerge as top-notch starters at the major-league level.

At the moment, there are only two legitimate power arms in their big-league rotation: Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. Strasburg won't be back until next September, at the earliest, and there are no guarantees what kind of pitcher he'll be when he returns from Tommy John surgery. Zimmermann certainly has the necessary tools to dominate a big-league lineup. We'll see if he can put them all together in 2011 after having his last two seasons derailed by the same Tommy John surgery.

Other than that, the Nats have no big-league power arms in their rotation. I love Livan Hernandez as much as anybody (maybe to a fault) but he ranked 92nd in the majors this season in strikeouts despite ranking 24th in innings pitched. John Lannan also can be an effective pitcher, but he doesn't miss a lot of bats, either.

Those kind of innings-eating control artists are vital to a rotation to get through a 162-game season, and often they help a club reach the postseason. But once October rolls around, you have to have at least one (and probably two or three) power arms who can dominate a game on their own without the help of their defense.

We've seen it time and again over the years. What kind of pitchers come up biggest in the postseason? Power pitchers. Pedro Martinez. Randy Johnson. Curt Schilling. Josh Beckett. Chris Carpenter. CC Sabathia. Cliff Lee (who doesn't throw as hard as the other guys but still strikes out a bunch of batters). And now, Roy Halladay.

The Nationals made a point this year to draft pitchers with power arms, among them Sammy Solis and A.J. Cole. Both guys are currently pitching in the instructional league in Florida and have been enjoying success so far. We'll see how long it takes before we see them on the big stage, though.

In the meantime, the Nationals have to hold out hope that Strasburg comes back 100 percent next September, that Zimmermann makes an important career step next season and that they can somehow land the "No. 1 starter" Mike Rizzo insists he's after this winter. The guy I would look real closely at: Javier Vazquez. Yes, he struggled with the Yankees this season and isn't in their playoff rotation. But he's always been a better NL pitcher than AL pitcher, and he's always been a high-strikeout guy (career 8.1 K's per nine innings).

Some other news, notes and thoughts on this Thursday morning...

-- Chien-Ming Wang finally pitched in an actual baseball game yesterday. He started the Nationals' instructional league game against the Tigers and pitched one scoreless inning, with the leadoff batter reaching on a walk, then getting thrown out trying to steal second by Jesus Flores. His fastball, according to my spies down in Viera, topped out at 87 mph. That's still not where it needs to be for Wang to pitch in the big leagues again, but it's progress from where he was when he signed last February. The Nats will have to decide by early December whether to tender Wang a contract and thus go to arbitration with him. If they do, they'd be required to pay him at least $3.5 million (75 percent of his 2009 salary) and I can't see that happening. The club could, however, non-tender him and then re-sign him to a lesser deal with incentives, just as they did last winter with Scott Olsen.

-- Several of you have asked me about the possibility of Adam Dunn qualifying only as a Type B free agent this winter, not Type A as everyone assumed. As best as I can tell, it is a possibility, though not a certainty. The formula used by MLB (through the Elias Sports Bureau) is complicated and is based on stats over multiple seasons in comparison to guys who play similar positions. First basemen are lumped in with outfielders and designated hitters, so there are a lot of candidates in the pool. If Dunn does wind up as a Type B and if the Nats offer him arbitration and if he rejects it and signs with another club, the Nats would only get one supplemental draft pick between the first and second rounds as compensation for losing him. If Dunn is a Type A free agent, the Nats get two picks (either the signing team's first- or second-round pick, plus a supplemental pick).

-- Lot of people upset at the notion the the Nationals could relocate their spring training site to Arizona, as suggested yesterday by Stan Kasten during his final press conference as team president. I wouldn't get too worked up about it. The chance of the Nats moving to Arizona is incredibly remote. No East Coast team currently trains out there, and there's good reason for that: Owners like to give their fans the ability to drive to Florida to see their team play every spring. I think this is more of a negotiating ploy than anything. If either the folks in Viera or another Florida community think they might lose the Nats to Arizona, they might feel pressured into sweetening their deal. Either way, I don't see the Nats moving out of Viera for at least a couple of years.


David Lint said...

Mark - NO to Javier Vasquez.

He lost 3 MPH on his fastball this year. That's not something a move to the NL is going to fix.

He, himself, has said he's basically done as the pitcher he once was and he'll have to learn to pitch again.

MPH chart for Vasquez

2005: 91.7
2006: 91.2
2007: 91.8
2008: 91.7
2009: 91.1
2010: 88.7

35 year olds don't re-gain velocity as they get older... they lose it.

Vasquez is done, and signing him would be no different than throwing Marquis or Maya out there every fifth day.

JayB said...

Ross D was drafted as a power arm. Paid a bonus as a power arm....what happened is still a story that needs to be told. Did Ross not do his part in off season training? Should he have a better build and core for a 25 year old with what 3 full professional seasons and off seasons to prepare? What did the Nats require him to do in the off season and if not much then why not?

joemktg said...

"2. How on earth can the Nationals ever get to a point where something like that becomes possible?"

Correct me if I'm wrong, but neither Roy is home-grown.

E.g.,: when will Felix Hernandez be available? Well whenever that is, beat out the Yankees, Phillies, Bosox, etc. for his services.

Anonymous said...

Mark, how is Jesus Flores doing? Heard he has shown to promise in his recovery? Are they thinking about bringing him to Spring Training next year?

Bowdenball said...

Mark, I think you're getting carried away on #1. Pundits always overemphasize the infallibility of pitching rotation in the postseason, but EVERYONE gets hit hard sometimes, and all it takes is a couple down games and a team is eliminated. In Halladay's only start against the Giants this year, he gave up 5 runs on 10 hits.

Is it likely to happen again? No. But it's a lot more likely than another no-hitter. The postseason doesn't magically transform really good pitchers into unbeatable ones. The first game of the day yesterday is evidence of that. And if you want more evidence, ask the Phillies how C.C. Sabathia did last time they saw him in the postseason.

alexva said...

JayB - Ross has been tinkered with, allowed to go back to his original motion and injured.

You've suggested it is a conditioning issue or some lack of dedication but I suspect that the above has more to do with it than anything else.

Also you can survive in the middle of the plate at 95 in college. In the bigs you need to locate and by focusing on location too much you can reduce your velocity as well.

You're over-thinking this one.

Anonymous said...

Marcos Frias and Juan Jaime are considered power arms. As is Trevor Holder. One could consider Sammy Solis in that category as well. Definitely Nate Karns if and when he returns to play baseball again. And there's AJ Morris another golden spikes finalist whose live arm is getting lots of notice. The problem is Solis and Holder seem the most likely candidates to get to the majors soonest perhaps behind sinkerballers Milone and Rosenbaum. And Detwiler if he ever gets his velocity consistently back up.

Not much there to really rely on ... which is why Rizzo knows he has to go outside to shore up the rotation. He really doesn't have any choice.

JaneB said...

joemktg, I agree. The Phillies bought that talent.

It sounds like the Lerner's aren't open checkbook kind of owners, from what others write. But they are in the market for a serious pitcher. What serious pitcher would want to come pitch for us, especially next year?

I'm also curious to understand what would being an NL player do to help Vasquez? Is that there's more tactical thought required in the One True League?

Bowdenball said...

A correction to the last sentence- should be two of the last three times. The Phillies beat Sabathia in Game 1 of the 2009 WS and crushed him in 2007 when he was with the Brewers. He was average in their most recent meeting, which the Yankees won but he did not get the win.

markfd said...

Mark - Great article on power pitching the Nats have been lacking it from day 1 and everyone excepted it, you need horses to ride into battle and horses like Lee, CC, Halladay and even Liriano last night proved that a power pitcher is worth his weight in gold. All of the above pitchers kept big offenses in check during their outing. Yes we have Strasburg and JZimm but if our next generation of power pitchers loom in the FIL we are in for a world of hurt unless we go the free agent/trade route. Pitchers like Livo and Lannan have their place in rotations around the majors and that is the #4 and #5 starter, unfortunately for us we do not have the luxury of having them pitch against other teams #4 and #5s. Doubly unfortunate is the fact that the free agent/trade crop this offseason is not promising long term besides Cliff Lee..please bring the prodigal son home where he belongs. Speaking of prodigal sons, Expos Alum Carl Pavano toes the rubber tonight against the Yankees (Carl is so lucky he is not pitching at Yankee Stadium, the fans would be on him every pitch after he stole all that money from the Yanks!)

David Lint said...

Jane, the NL is seen as the easier league for pitchers for two reasons.

1. No DH, thus, one less hitter to worry about.

2. Hitting talent, and talent overall, is currently stronger in the AL than it is in the NL.

souldrummer said...

If Dunn's Type B, Rizzo needs to get justifiably criticized for not getting more of value if he walks. Even if he's not Type B, this hurts his status for us because if a team signs multiple Type As, will be last in line with what draft pick we would get in compensation.

Here's hoping Solis gets in the mix sooner rather than later. You draft college arms like him early to contribute.

What specifically are sources saying about Cole? Haven't heard anything about him to this point.

JaneB said...

Thanks, David.

Raff said...

Both Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt were acquired in trades. The Phillies grew talent in the minors and then traded it to teams who weren't going to the post-season any time soon. It made sense for Toronto and Houston to trade pitchers with tremendous post-season value to teams that would benefit -- and thus pay -- for that post-season value.

As much as Phillie-hating is a hobby around here, it pays to get the facts right, and the Phillies built the core of their team through drafts (regular and rule 5) and trades. That's a formula the Nats can follow (now that they've had time to undo the damage that MLB did to the Expos' farm system). Free agency should be where the Nats get their finishing pieces, not their core.

JD said...

Thank you Raff,

I've been trying to say this for 6 months but the Lerner haters are so single minded that they don't understand that it takes more than an open check book to build a team.

BinM said...

Drafting power arms is a fine baseline strategy; What sets guys like Halliday, King Felix, Lee and a few others apart from the rest is the ability to control 2-3 other pitches as well. A number of the 'power pitchers' currently in the Nationals system (Detwiler, Balester, Frias, etc) have struggled to master a secondary pitch, and find their only path to the majors is to convert to relief pitching.
Just more food for thought.

JoeGish said...

OUCH! Local writers not happy in Ville de Cincinnatus

From the Cincinnati Enquirer Sports writer Paul Daugherty this AM:

"...The strike zone was wavy for Volquez. He needed 56 pitches to get five outs. It was like watching a mover push a piano up Price Hill. Seemingly every Phillie but Halladay was working a three-ball count. Halladay lined a first-pitch, sinking fastball into left for an RBI single in the second.

That gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead that quickly grew to 4-0. After that, we collected predictions on when the Reds might get a base runner, and busied ourselves concocting conceivable ways Roy Halladay could lose a 4-0 lead:




Mass gathering of gophers beneath the pitcher’s mound.

This is what smart, patient, October-tested-and-approved hitters do. Nineteen of the 25 Phillies have been in the playoffs, including seven of the eight hitters who started Wednesday night. They laid off high, first-pitch fastballs, fouled off breaking balls on the corners, then cut out Volquez’s heart with line drives all over the place, when Volquez had to throw a strike. ...It’s one thing to lose to Halladay. Happens all the time, all over the league. The man’s going to be the National League’s Cy Young winner. It’s another to have your faced rubbed in a pile of national embarrassment. "

Bowdenball said...

Raff is 100% right. There's plenty of reasons to hate the Phillies, but "buying" a great team isn't one of them. This team was built the way teams should be built- homegrown talent rewarded for excellence and supplemented with trades from a previously stocked farm system to plug holes with elite talent.

Unfortunately, we don't have a stocked farm system, so we have to plug our holes in free agency.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Anonymous said...
Mark, how is Jesus Flores doing? Heard he has shown to promise in his recovery? Are they thinking about bringing him to Spring Training next year?

I've heard good things so far. He's hit the ball well and yesterday threw out a runner trying to steal second. I definitely believe he'll be at spring training, though it might be tough for him to make the roster even if healthy with Pudge and Ramos also there.

Evan S said...

Is it time for Flores to switch positions? I know he's a pretty good athlete, maybe he can become a backup 3rd/1st baseman or corner outfielder? I just don't see him playing behind the dish with Ramos and Pudge next year. Also, do you agree Detwiler should also be counted as a power pitcher? He has the stuff, although didn't show it this season with his return from hip surgery. A full off-season of training should have him throwing 95 again in spring training.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Evan S said...
Mark, is it time for Flores to switch positions? I know he's a pretty good athlete, maybe he can become a backup 3rd/1st baseman or corner outfielder? I just don't see him playing behind the dish with Ramos and Pudge next year. Also, do you agree Detwiler should also be counted as a power pitcher? He has the stuff, although didn't show it this season with his return from hip surgery. A full off-season of training should have him throwing 95 again in spring training.

Mike Rizzo was asked about a possible Flores switch to first base a couple weeks ago and shot down the possibility. Said for now, the organization looks at Jesus strictly as a catcher. Seems to me that the ideal scenario would have Flores show he's healthy and productive again at Syracuse during the season's first half, then trade Pudge in midsummer and call up Jesus to share the job with Ramos. Long way to go before that happens, though.

That One Guy said...

How many former Nats are currently in the playoffs?
I count--not including former Expos--Capps (MIN), Rauch (MIN), Kearns (NYY), Johnson (NYY), Schneider (PHI), Guillen (TEX), and Guzman (TEX). Am I missing anyone? Looks like it's a good chance a player will do well once he LEAVES Washington.

Dave Nichols said...

Detwiler's continual and lingering hip injuries are due to his poor mechanics, and is probably responsible for his drop in velocity here at the end of the season. Hard to see him ever truly developing if he's allowed to continue such a hard, across-the-body delivery.

let's give him this winter to fully heal and rest and strengthen, but come spring training, if the hip problems continue or his velocity still lacks, the former No. 6 overall pick (selected two spots before Jason Heyward) is in real jeopardy as as starting pitching.

Dave Nichols said...

pitcher, that is.

Sunderland said...

JD said...
Thank you Raff,

I've been trying to say this for 6 months but the Lerner haters are so single minded that they don't understand that it takes more than an open check book to build a team.

JD, you're ignoring years of poor management and also ignoring the huge importance of building a fan base.

The Lerners had 22,000 season ticket holders in 2005. They could have kept those and built on it had they put a good product on the field. They chose not to, and the fans chose to come to games a lot less often. This was a truly massive blunder. yes, it would have required spending money. But it would have been the smart business decision, the right financial approach.

The #1 most cost effective way to get talent is in the draft. An excellent example of this is the Nats draft in 2010. A truly great job of drafting and investing smartly.
Prior to 2010 the Nats drafted with a frugal budget. Drew Storen with the 10th pick? Please. Trevor Holder in the 3rd round? If they really liked Holder, he would have almost certainly been there in round 6 (he went round 10 the provious year).

So it's not just "go out a buy a few studs", it years of bad decisions in terms of both team building and fan base building.

If you like Raff's comments (and I do) and the Phillies approach (and I do) then you have to admit that prior to 2010 the Nats efforts just to stay within budget will harm this team for years to come.

Pilchard said...

Why is it unknown whether Dunn will be at Type A or B FA? The season is over and no new stats need to be calculated. What other variable needs to be added to formula that is presently unknown?

Hard to believe that a player with Dunn's HR and RBI numbers over the last 3 years would not qualify as an A free agent.

Chris said...

Where does JayB come up with this stuff?

The guy never ceases to amaze me.

NG said...


It's not the absence of stats, it's that the Elias formula is a secret. Some people have attempted to "reverse engineer" the formula, but it's not 100% accurate, so no one can say for sure where someone right on the border like Dunn actually will fall.

Anonymous said...

I think its great that if they can get another #1 type guy to go with Stras when he comes back. But this team should be at 80 wins next year if they can get the 3 or 4 of the rotation to actually start every 5th day through a whole season.

Anonymous said...

"The Lerners had 22,000 season ticket holders in 2005. They could have kept those and built on it had they put a good product on the field."

5,000 of those 20,000 season ticket holders left even before the Lerners were awarded the team in May 2006. How is Lerner mismanagement responsible for that?

JD said...


Poor management for years = Jim Bowden; I agree.

I don't see how you make the leap of faith that the poor management was sheer thriftiness; if they wanted to go cheap they wouldn't have allowed Bowden to bring in Soriano; to extend Young, Bellliard; to bring in Castilla and Guzman (and then to extend him) and to bring in Marquis; these were crappy baseball decisions not thrifty ones.

The Marlins are cheap; they make good baseball decisions but because they refuse to increase the budget they don't take advantage of a great general manager.

Since Rizzo has been in charge I don't see where you would have spent more to achieve better results; would you have signed Lackey for $16 mil for 5 years?

People look at Philly and say look they bought Halliday; well they traded Kyle Drabek to get Halladay and we don't have a Kyle Drabek unless you want to trade SS. I don't.

Dave said...

I must say that JayB asked the same questions that occurred to me from time to time this year. Detwiler looks like he weighs about 140 pounds soaking wet. I don't know much about pitching, but it's hard for me to imagine how such a (literally) lightweight pitcher can be a power arm.

Mark, you said the Nationals need to hold out hope that Strasburg comes back 100 percent next September. Based on Zimmermann's return, I'd say that's a pretty slim possibility. However, he may well be back to 100%+ by spring training of 2012, and then we'd have a couple of major home-grown arms in the starting 5.

natsfan1a said...

That One Guy, d'oh! I'd completely forgotten Schneider, and he was one of my faves. Bill Bray is with the Reds. Guillen is with SFO now, not Texas.

Doc said...

The current Reds' roster includes 5 out of their last 6 1st round picks. Nats need to bribe their scouts to come east; those guys must know what they are doing out there in the amateur bushes!

Steveospeak said...


While I can get behind Vasquez as a fall back plan, and/or a stopgap until Strasburg returns, he def. doesn't fit the bill as a 'number 1'. One power pitcher you didn't mention that the Nats could have a shot at is Darvish if he is posted. We missed out on Chapman last year (boy that one stings), so I'm hoping they go hard this year for Darvish. Since this is Marquis' and Hernandez's last year, that would give the Nats a nice core for next year when Strasburg returns. Vasquez could be another one year fix, but he isn't really going to be the third wheel with Strasburg and Zimmermann going forward.

A DC Wonk said...

If you like Raff's comments (and I do) and the Phillies approach (and I do) then you have to admit that prior to 2010 the Nats efforts just to stay within budget will harm this team for years to come.

Will it? The strategy also resulted (by luck or not, doesn't matter) in the Nats getting Strasburg and Harper.

Look, Lerner went *way* over slot to sign all three studs that were drafted this year. Raff (and JD, etc) are right. You can't just buy a playoff team (see, e.g., Red Sox, Boston). Furthermore, had they signed, e.g., expensive older FA-type for a 3-year deal, say, two years ago, that could be $50 million of wasted money, as the Nats would have been contenders for 4th place, maybe 3rd (and not gotten Stras or Harper).

Raff is right on the money. You build from within, and you spend big only when you think the spending will make a difference between being in a playoff race or not being in a race. There's no evidence at all that Lerner would not have traded the same picks and spend the same money on Halladay and Oswalt had the Nats had the chance at them, and had the chance at making the playoffs. But both Roys wanted a playoff team, and the Nats weren't going to be one. The Roys knew it, and Lerner knew it.

It takes years to recover from MLB's destruction of our farm system and scouting system. And, by all evidence, Rizzo is the perfect person to rebuild it. And it appears he has.

I know if flies in the face of Lerner haters, but it bears repeating again: Strasburg and Harper got record setting contracts, and we went *way* over slot to sign the two other draft studs this year.

JayB said...

Those "way over slot" contracts are chicken feed per year....Lerners are cheap until the spend 90 Million a year on MLB is just a fact. Deal with it.

Anonymous said...

Spending $90 million a year, to me, means nothing. There are several baseball clubs (Red Sox, Cubs, Mets, etc) that are well over that figure and were mediocre (Red Sox) to disasters (Cubs, Mets). If you want to adopt a salary cap number as your be-all assessment of owner commitment to winning, power to you.

They were guilty of going on the cheap in previous years, but I'm willing to grant a learning curve and allow for bad advice (BOWDEN!!!). Yes, he may have been telling them what they wanted to hear. But it's also just possible they learned something from the results. The real kicker is this offseason, not next offseason. Unless half a dozen things go right they won't be playoff contenders this year, but they've been building a real foundation for once and now need to start filling in the cracks in the foundation for the next level to be built. If they get a real pitcher and re-sign Dunn then I'll be happy even if they're only paying $75 million in payroll. Just win, baby.

John C.

Steve said...

Red Sox mediocre? Didn't they win 85+ games? I'll take that kind of mediocrity every year - in the NL, that puts you in the wild card hunt for at least 150 games every season! I'll take that any day after the last 5 years.

The team needs to have AT LEAST a $90M payroll given the market they play in - the fans will come back once the team starts winning.

Anonymous8 said...

No. 3 The Phillies pitching is stacked but it has come at the expense of their farm system and they traded JA Happ.

So they have Oswalt for 1 more year and 2nd year option and Halladay for 3 years and a 1 year option so they won't be there forever.

Sunderland said...

DC Wonk:

You seem to miss that I praised the Nats 2010 draft. The first smart draft they've done. Prior to 2010, they drafted based on budget, being frugal and foolish. How exactly does this fit into "building from within"?

Yes they went over slot for Cole and Solis. Yes, I think these were great moves. But be real about how incredibly inexpensive this was, $3M total for the both of them.
Why did it take until 2010 to start drafting smart?

We're agreeing that the Nats of late have done some real nice things in terms of assembling talent.

I was just responding that people (like me) who are sometimes labeled as "Lerner haters" are not yelling to go sign Halladay and Pujols. We're pointing out that there are plenty of very obvious instances of the Nats in the past scrimping on dollars for the team while being near the top in Forbes estimates of profits.

Some people (not necessarily putting you in this group) simply repeat the mantras about "the plan" and "patience" and "build slowly" without realizing that for years the Nats were just giving lip service to these ideas and were more focused on staying within budget than anything else.

JayB said...

Exactly......well said...

Anonymous said...

@Steve: Way to quibble with one example (the Red Sox) and ignore the other two (the Cubs and the Mets). Look, spending $90 million is easy; just a few more Jason Marquis type signings and dropping $20 million on Dunn should do it. Would that make you happy? It wouldn't make me happy at all. We could be like fans of the Dodgers ($94.9 million, 80 wins), Mariners ($98.7 million, 61 wins) Tigers ($122.8 million, 81 wins) , Mets ($132.7 million, 79 wins) and Cubs ($146.8 million, 75 wins) and get to watch a team with few prospects and underperforming free agents that is locked into terrible long term contracts and unable to improve. The Cubs top six players are making nearly $100 million (led by former National Alphonso Soriano), and they suck.

Those five teams stepped up and met your criteria - they paid $90+ million in salaries to players, often a lot more. Average payroll for those five teams? $119.8 million. Average number of wins? 75. Six more than the Nationals managed with a payroll of $61.4 million.

Ultimately, though, I don't think we really disagree all that much. I'm not saying that the DC market can't support a $90 million payroll, or that the Nats shouldn't make moves that would put them in that range sooner rather than later. That's the difference between our team and the Florida teams; in the DC market the team can build and then sustain, re-signing the players as they hit free agency. If the Nationals are sensibly aggressive this year, they will build payroll and keep their momentum. If they can't sign Dunn for a reasonable fee, sign Carl Crawford. Get a top pitcher without wiping out the farm system that is just now restocking from years of neglect and Bowdenization. Yes, they've been guilty of going cheap in the past, but they've also stepped up and spent significant money when they didn't have to (Zimmerman, Marquis, Dmitri Young - one good, one bad and the other the jury is still out - but they did spend).

It's the sense of progress I'm looking for, not a certain payroll figure. To get my money and attention I need to have a sense that the momentum that the Nationals have built the past couple of years in building the talent base is a lesson learned, not a fluke.

John C.

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