Monday, April 4, 2011

Nats starters doing their part

US Presswire photo
Jordan Zimmermann pitched well yesterday but was pulled after six innings.
There are a handful of things the Nationals could point to as potential problem areas following their first series of the year. The lineup has produced a total of eight runs in three games and is a collective 3-for-25 with runners in scoring position. The bullpen, which imploded during yesterday's 11-2 loss to the Braves, sports an 8.38 ERA. And Sunday's sloppy defensive effort elicited strong words from manager Jim Riggleman and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Three games in, though, the one thing the Nationals haven't had any reason to worry about is the one thing everyone thought they would need to worry about this season: the starting rotation.

Livan Hernandez, John Lannan and Jordan Zimmermann have combined to post a 2.60 ERA so far, none having allowed more than two earned runs in his season debut.

And those numbers might look even better had Riggleman given his starters a bit more rope and let them pitch deeper into their respective games. Hernandez was pulled with one out in the seventh on Opening Day, despite a pitch count of only 77. Lannan was pulled after only five innings and 68 pitches on Saturday. And Zimmermann departed after six innings and 84 pitches yesterday.

There were extenuating circumstances that called for both Lannan and Zimmermann to removed. Lannan sat through a 55-minute rain delay in the fourth inning, and though he was allowed to return for the fifth, Riggleman and pitching coach Steve McCatty noticed a difference in his stuff during that final inning. So they decided not to take any chances and turn to the bullpen right then.

There were no signs of fatigue from Zimmermann, though, who had retired five of six batters when he was removed during what was at the time a tight, 3-1 game.

The right-hander said the correct things afterward when asked about his removal, though he did indicate he could have continued.

"I felt good," he said. "But you want to hand it over to the bullpen. The bullpen did a great job last year. They just had a little stumble in the road today."

Riggleman subtly explained the real reason Zimmermann was taken out.

"He threw good, and he could have gone back out there a little longer," the manager said. "But we're trying to really look after him. So six innings was enough for him today."

If it wasn't obvious already, it should be now: The Nationals are going to be extremely cautious with Zimmermann, who despite being 100 percent recovered from his August 2009 Tommy John surgery, threw a total of only 70 2/3 innings last year between the minors and majors. He threw exactly 100 innings the previous season before getting hurt and topped out at 134 innings as a minor-leaguer in 2008.

The Nationals, like most teams, don't let their young starters dramatically exceed their previous innings totals. It's pretty clear they intend to limit Zimmermann to 150-160 innings this season. Which means even if he only makes 25 starts, he'll need to be pulled after roughly six innings every time out.

It's the right thing for the organization to do. Zimmermann's ascension to front-line starter is among the Nationals' most important objectives this year. They need him to pitch well, but they also need him to make it through the full season healthy and prepared to increase his workload in 2012.

More importantly, if the rest of the Nationals' rotation continues to pitch the way Hernandez, Lannan and Zimmermann did against the Braves, the club's biggest question mark could prove to be the least of its concerns.


Feel Wood said...

"It's pretty clear they intend to limit Zimmermann to 150-160 innings this season. Which means even if he only makes 25 starts, he'll need to be pulled after roughly six innings every time out.

It's the right thing for the organization to do."

But they could easily be doing the right thing the wrong way. With all the supposed pitching depth in the system (Detwiler, Maya) why automatically limit Zimmermann to only six innings if he has less than 85 pitches, is pitching well and not struggling in the least? Is not the goal to develop starters who can pitch deep into games? At some point, starters need to learn how to do that. It's not going to just happen one day all of a sudden, like flipping the switch on them. If Zimmermann or any other starter has a chance to pitch beyond the sixth inning and keep his team in the game, Riggleman should let him do it instead of applying the quick hook and going to the bullpen. We saw Lannan chafe under Riggleman's quick hook last year, we saw Zimmermann chafe under it yesterday. Another example of how Riggleman comes up short as a manager. Instead of developing starters with a bulldog mentality, he's babying them to the point that they may start pitching in fear that if they hit a rough spot they'll be yanked, which means they'll be putting unnecessary pressure on themselves to be perfect. Instead of bulldogs, he'll end up with head cases in the rotation. If Zimmermann has a 150-160 innings limit, that's entirely reasonable. But if he should use up those innings in 20 starts instead of 25, where's the problem? You have Maya, Detwiler, perhaps even Wang as backfill. And if the starters go longer into games, that's less overtaxing of the bullpen. You can play to win and develop your pitchers at the same time. Where's the problem with that?

Mr Baseball said...

I'm not going to believe in this team until we get a new Manager. Riggleman will never be the answer. He always blows the same old smoke. We should have hired Showalter last year and look at the difference he has made in Baltimore. (Water over the dam, I know!) So, go out and get Ryne Sandberg now before someone else grabs him. He's young and can grow with this team. I tried of Riggleman's connection with Rizzo. So, Mr. Rizzo cut the cord, which you should have done last year. Don't let friendship stand in the way. Riggleman may be a good coach but he's not cut out to be a ML Manager!

Unknown said...

This issue centers on what the best distribution of innings is with regard to maintaining arm health, and I don't think that the sports injury field knows. Is it better to have 25 X 6 innings or 21 X 7? My hunch is that stress on the ligaments etc is non-linear, where the last 15-18 pitches in a 7+ inning start are singly worse on the anatomy than pitches 54 thru 60, for example, irrespective of the heath history of the pitcher.

I have a bigger problem with Riggs sending Lannan back out after a 55-minute layoff on a cold rainy day than I do pacing Zimmermann's innings tally.

Steve M. said...

Mark Zuckerman writes...the one thing everyone thought they would need to worry about this season: the starting rotation.

Who is everyone Mark? You should re-read your ST comments. Jordan Zimmermann had a great Spring as did Marquis and Gorzelanny and Lannan did good too. You are betting on better defense to make these pitchers look better and for the most part it is working. My concerns about the starting rotation are Livo's and Marquis stamina throughout the season as both show the wear and tear. Otherwise I thought the starting row would be a bright spot of this team.

My concerns as I pointed out in the last post has been about the bullpen and the redundancy of the bench.

I still like what I have seen (sans yesterdays bullpen blowup) and suggest Riggleman sticks with the hot hand at catcher and keeps encouraging Desmond as a ice cold leadoff guy has you looking like Nyjer last year (or worse).

The Joker said...

Adam Dunn already has a homer and a double and five RBIs. Willingham has a home run, too. Woops, Fuhrer Rizzo.

A DC Wonk said...

"Who is everyone Mark? You should re-read your ST comments. "

I think that, indeed, most of the pre-season comments on this blog, and other places, pointed to the starting pitching as the biggest weakness. Zimmerman is clearly a question mark; as is soft-tosser Lannan. Old-even-slower-tosser Livo is the #1 starter, and Marquis' injury left him a disaster last year.

And _that's_ what the Nats are relying on?

So, betting on starting pitching to be top notch is not the smartest best -- and it's why the majority of predictors put the Nats at under 80 wins this year.

Now, the pitching _could_ pan out well (and I predicted 80 wins myself) -- and there are lots of reasons it might. Livo reported in great shape (as he did last year). Lannan has been (except for half of last year) the Nats' most consistent starter. Marquis is a good pitcher if he's past his injury, and JZimm has huge upside if he's past his injury. And perhaps Detweiler has straightened out, and is waiting in the wings.

But by any rational measure, you still have to say that the biggest *potential* weakness of the Nats is their starting pitching. And that's what most commentators mentioned, and that's why, imho, Mark was correct in his assessment.

A DC Wonk said...

Feel Wood -- you have an awful lot of faith in unproven pitchers. Yeah, Detwiler, Maya, Wang might work out -- but they haven't shown anything yet, and using up JZimm because you think those there are going to be great is short-sighted.

JZimm is young with tremendous upside. Babying him is the right thing to do right now -- the potential payoff could be 6-8-10 years of solid pitching from him.

JD said...

This is baseball according to Riggleman. The minute a starter gets past the 5th inning he is not allowed to give up a hit or a walk or he's outta here; 3 days in a row now he has taken out a starter who is still effective and who has a very low pitch count.

When we get to July and August our bullpen will be completely worn out (ALA Clippard 2010) and our starters won't be able to give you the extra innings because they have not been stretched out properly.

The idea of babying Zimmermann is also not that sound. People who have studied the subject have found that it is critical to develop young arms slowly but when they turn 25 and their shoulder joints are fully developed (Zimm turns 25 in May) you can increase their work load and keep building up their arms with minimal risk; this has everything to do with age and physiology and nothing to do coming back from surgery 18 month ago.

JD said...

Does everyone remember Livo when Robinson was managing? 120 - 130 pitches time and time again; effective and with no arm problems. Starting pitchers can do this; there will be times when you have to take them out early because they are getting pounded but when you retire 15 hitters in a row and are only up to 77 pitches you can probably save the bull pen for another day.

Steve M. said...

DC Wonk - MANY is not everyone. And MANY pointed to it as an overall problem but could never say specifically what it was. There were a few like myself that couldn't find any issues during Spring Training as the starting row was solid. Marquis and JZim were stellar. Livo was Livo. Lannan was mostly untested and Gorzelanny was getting the 5th spot regardless.

Again, the good news is Strasburg is progressing and Maya is in the wings and Detwiler has to be utilized in some capacity to help this team even it is in the role Adam Wainwright played on the STL Cardinals in 2006. To let Detwiler sit in the Minors past May 1st in Syracuse is a waste of his talent.

Once the hitting starts to click with this team to back up the pitchers, this will be a better than average team if the bullpen can hold the leads.

Mark'd said...

I also never had an issue with any of the starting 9 w/ the starting rotation once they made the Nyjer move.

My complaints are on the role players which comprises the bullpen and bench. The bench is better than last year but still weak and the bullpen isn't the best 7 Rizzo could've picked.

Wally said...

I am feeling pretty good so far with the team.

But I find myself about to defend Riggleman, which kind of sucks, because I think that they need a different manager, too. He has gotten a lot of grief because of his overworking of pitchers (perceived or actual) - from Kerry Wood on down. So to knock him for being overly cautious on Zimm (if he even was being overly cautious) just doesn't seem consistent (or fair). In my view, there is no consensus in the baseball community about how to work young pitchers to avoid injury - Nolan Ryan has them throw very often, others baby them, all with no statistically meaningful conclusions. I sure as heck don't know the answer either, although my gut is more along the lines of what James said about those highly stressful pitches causing a disproportionate amount of damage.

But the one thing Riggs has done well in his time here is bullpen management (imo). Yesterday's debacle notwithstanding (although I think that Hudson's dominance made Riggs conclude that it was unlikely to be a win, so give his more reliable guys a day off). Last year, he kept going to Clip often - to the point of overusing him - to get those wins early in the year when we were 20-15. Maybe not the best long term management, but certainly got short term results. Right now, it looks like Clip and Burnett are the only guys he really trusts, so expect to see them in every close game.

Where Riggs really bothers me is this unholy deference to the vets. He has done it the entire time that he has been here, and I don't think that he has what it takes to make the hard decisions to play the guy that gives us the best chance to win, yet still maintain productivity in the clubhouse. There is no way that Pudge should play more than 1 or 2 times a week, both because Ramos is better right now and also the only guy with a future, but I see him taking a long time to get to that point.

I actually like Riggs more than most posters (it seems), but this team still needs an identity, and I think they need a strong coach, like a Davey Johnson or Bobby Valentine. Guys who have the street cred to make those decisions and not lose the clubhouse.

A DC Wonk said...

"Does everyone remember Livo when Robinson was managing? 120 - 130 pitches time and time again; effective and with no arm problems."

Umm . . . Livo was six years younger then. Further, while Livo had an ERA of around 3.00 for the months of May, June and July -- his ERA for the rest of the year was approx 5.50. OTOH, for 2010, his ERA was under 4.5 for Aug/Sept/Oct.

And many people thought Robinson burnt out a lot of the starting pitching staff in '05 -- just like he did to Livo -- which was, in part, a cause of the team crashing in the second half. Livo's arm is not bionic. It may be special, but it will wear down over time.

"MANY is not everyone"

C'mon, "everyone" is an expression. You might say "everyone thinks the Mets have an awful team this year", or "everone things so-and-so is an AAAA player" -- but I'm sure you can find some intense fanatics that think the Mets can win, or that so-and-so deserves to be in the majors.

PAY TO PLAY said...

Wally, well thought out post on Riggs and what makes this a comfortable place for tired old veterans to come to because they like Riggleman may not be what's best for the team.

When Ramos is 3 for 4 and the hot hand Saturday, start him Sunday....

My only thought on the old guys on the bench Stairs, Cora, and Hairston is, who picked them, Riggles or Rizzo?

I stated before that I thought AGonzalez and Bernadina needed to part of the bench along with Stairs or Nix and just don't see how Cora was an upgrade over AGonzalez except in veteran leadership; however, this team is now loaded with veteran leadership.

Sometimes making your Manager too comfortable is not a good thing. Riggleman lacks a bench that has a speed guy and a late inning OF replacement so he could keep Nix and Stairs.

The bullpen has Coffey who is a tired old reliever who couldn't cut it on his last stop.

I really like the starting 8 although I still think the CF/Leadoff will be exposed for what it is and I cringe when I think of Hairston playing a full game in CF.

On the other hand, this is supposed to be a year of transition to being a contender so I know we have to live with figuring it all out and that is hard to do.

Steve M. said...

DC Wonk, I get caught up in word specifics like "Everyone" meaning 100% as I am very anal rententive on that type of stuff if you read my rants. I haven't before but will go on record as a Riggleman supporter as he does the small things right and supports his players on the field. My biggest complaint with him is his affinity to washed up players and trotting them out there like they are owed playing time. Last year was Justin Maxwell and wonder who it will be this year.

Just not a fan of how this team was constructed at final cuts. Not the best 25 in my opinion. When Nyjer faltered it immediately put this team behind as Ankiel wouldn't be the bench player but a starter and Desmond wouldn't be a 2 hitter but the leadoff.

I put the blame on this squarely on Rizzo as he didn't get the CF this team needed. Easier said then done but he also didn't do his off-season main goal which he stated which was #1 starter. He got Werth by overpaying and LaRoche by waiting him out, and traded away Willingham for players who were not "sure things". Gorzelanny seemed to be his best pickup in the Spring. I said it weeks ago with the Nyjer debacle that this is a Rizzo FAIL overall.

Rizzo improved team defense at the expense of team power, and I can buy into that philosophy on a wait and see but I don't like the bullpen or bench as a whole and that will affect Riggleman's ability to make the right moves.

My 2 cents on that.

Tcostant said...

Feel Wood said... @ April 4, 2011 10:29 AM

I couldn't have said this better myself. If a guy is under 100 pitches and pitching well. Leave him in and if he hits his innings cap sooner rather than later, so be it. It's different if he gets pulled for a pinch hitter in a game that he trailing, but that wasn't the case here.

Wally said...

P to P - definitely Rizzo, on the old guys. My take is Rizzo decides the 25 man roster, Riggs decides who to play and when (unless Rizzo tells him specifically to play someone). I think that is fairly typical, too.

Steve M - I agree with you on the final construction of the roster. Too much redundancy in the position players (Stairs, Nix, Ankiel), and the BP was decided purely along contract/options status. Coffey was a bad sign. He might do fine this year, and I am not saying he is a bad reliever, but to give him $1.5m on a major league deal means he is definitely going to make the team, when (a) his previous performance + (b) the quality and abundance of other (minimum salary) guys just didn't make it warranted. That is especially true when you knew you had a Henry Rodriguez and two Rule 5 guys that were 'use them or lose them' types. I think all of that is on Rizzo.

To his credit, he didn't wait too long last year to rectify the situation (see Bruney, Brian). Hopefully he will act decisively again this year, and we can contain the damage.

I know that I am being critical on a few points, but I don't want to lose sight of the fact that I do think that they are making positive progress overall. I don't expect them to bat 1.000 on all their moves.

JD said...


'there is no consensus in the baseball community about how to work young pitchers to avoid injury'

I don't agree with that statement. I think that the approaches are often unscientific and mimic y but there certainly is a fairly strong consensus on this topic.

I recently read a real interesting article on the topic (I forget the author's name) but he presents extremely compelling evidence that the key to developing young pitchers is to limit 'abuse' (defined by several high stress games in a row and a high overall number of pitches) before the age of 25. Pitchers who have been thrown to the wolves at an earlier age include :Fydrich,Gooden,Valenzuela,Bobby Witt and Frank Tannana; they all had their careers derailed by shoulder problems. Interestingly enough; Nolan Ryan had very low inning counts in his 1st 5 years mainly because he was wild and ineffective and he then proceeded to pitch at a very high level until the age of 42.

The 2nd part of the equation is the use of pitchers after their shoulders are fully developed at the age of 25. These days most teams use an arbitrary number of 100 pitches as the limit and this is based on sheer laziness (by the coaching staff) and the unwillingness to develop individual programs for individual pitchers; most pitchers can throw effectively for 120 - 130 pitches if they are allowed to have their arms work up to that level. You know a pitcher is tired when he loses his command (not velocity), the fast ball loses the sink action and the breaking ball flattens out.

Riggleman doesn't even allow his pitchers to get to 100 pitches; after the 5th inning a starter will be removed at the slightest sign of trouble; never mind that the starter is normally way more likely to retire the hitters than the middle reliever he brings in.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Nyjer Morgan is starting in RF for the Brewers!!

Why did we waste all the money on Werth?!?!?!?

Help_Only_159_Games_Remaining said...

I think limiting any non-rookie pitcher by innings or pitch count is detrimental to their development. At this rate of getting less that 6 full innings from most starters, we will burn out the bullpen before the all-star break. It was a travesty to take out Livan on Opening Day and another one taking out JZimm when he was crusing along. The Nats need to "man up" and treat their pitching staff like Nolan Ryan did last year and we know what kind of turnaround the rangers experienced! Colby Lewis for crying out loud!!!

Wally said...


I think that there is a super amount of focus now on how to avoid pitcher injuries, and some prevailing thoughts are more generally followed than others - low innings totals while young, avoid big innings jump year to year, 100 pitch limits, are a few. But they don't get followed uniformly by everyone; in part, because I don't think all teams are confident that they make a difference, which in turn is due to a low confidence level that we understand cause and effect with pitcher injuries completely. Certainly not in a way that has a proven link to higher injury avoidance results.

When you say 'most pitchers can throw effectively for 120 - 130 pitches if they are allowed to have their arms work up to that level', I am not agreeing or disagreeing (sounds reasonable, but I have no idea). I just think that you are saying it more confidently than the evidence allows. Maybe it is right, but since most SPs don't actually throw 120-130 pitches per game, how do you know for sure?

And stats beyond the recent past are hard to use, because I think that they lack some essential details. For every Tanana there is a Felix Hernandez, who threw high innings starting at a very young age and has been very healthy (ok, maybe not for every one, but one good one for every two injuries, something like that - the only true consensus is that pitching is an inherently unhealthy activity for certain muscles).

On Riggs, I was mainly trying to say that he thought that he was being conservative for Zimm's future, at the detriment to the immediate result (and by implication, his job). I think that Riggs would agree with you that a 7th inning Zimm is more likely to get hitters out than a fresh Coffey, Slaten, Broderick or Gaudin. Whether he was being stupid too, or even detrimental to his development, I dunno, I don't understand the causal connections enough. Whether he also does it for pitchers like Livo where this is less of an issue, no argument. So I thought that he deserved some credit for that, or at least not be criticized.

By the way, in Jonah Keri's new book about Tampa Bay (the Extra 2%), he described what they do, which I think is on the other end of the curve - they have two guys who literally watch every pitch of all their pitchers on video (majors and minors), looking for changes in arm angle and some other stuff, trying to find that moment of high stress and shut them down. They watch the major league guys concurrent with the game, and feed the info to Maddon for use in deciding whether a guy could go longer or not. Who knows whether it works, but it sounds pretty cool. I give them credit for trying to get to the next level of understanding. On the plus side, they haven't had a TJ surgery for any pitcher in a couple of years, on the other hand, who knows if that is the reason.

JoeGish said...

Nats on the verge of becoming the Jethro Bodine's of baseball.

Time to hire Bobby Valentine. Right guy to manage in the NL East.

JayB said...

Morgan in RF...that is the saddest statement on the Brewers ever.....I though they were going all in this year....can you imagine the 1st to 3rd's opposition base runners are going to take on that arm?

NatsJack in Florida said...

And not only that... how about Will Nieves catching.... Morgan battint 7th and Nieves batting 8th. And they're considered contenders???

As for all the blithering analysis taking place after 3 games, I determined on my flight up Thursday to limit any and all determininations about this season to 7 game blocks. That means 23 different times to provide analysis and recommendations for things I think need to change.

I have 4 more games before then and even then, I doubt I'll be condemning players or mangers or GM's to the minor leagues or to the unemployment line.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts on Riggleman are simple. There was no reason to bring in a replacement last year. The team is building for 2012-2013. Why bring in a new manager and pay the money for 2011, especially since Riggleman was already under contract.

I have no doubt we will see a new manager next year. All the talk around bringing in Werth was because he is a winner and knows what it takes to win games. With Rizzo wanting proven winners in key positions I don't see how Riggleman is managing next year unless the team really blows everyone's expectations out of the water.

JD said...


you are 1000% right; and as you say even 7 games don't mean much. I,m thinking more like 20. Let's remember that we started out 20 - 15 last year.

My criticism of Riggleman though is based on what I saw all last year which I almost forgot but saw in great abundance in the 1st 3 games.

NatsJack in Florida said...

JD.... I found myself saying several times that I thought Jim was over managing..... especially Saturday afternoon. But it worked out. You really don't lose anything defensively going to Nix over Morse in LF (might even be better) but I was against giving Morse any reason to doubt himself.

PDowdy83 said...

At least switching Morse and Nix on saturday was a double switch so Clippard could pitch more than 1 inning. It wasn't necessarily Riggs saying he thought Morse needed to be taken out for defensive purposes. It was the proper to time to do a double switch, unlike a lot of the ones he pulled last season.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Peyton... I didn't want to stir up the "double switch" demons. And there's a couple of "Clip get's shelled when pitching more than one inning" guys lurking in the weeds, as well.

JD said...


I understand the reasoning for a double switch I just disagree with taking your 5th place hitter out of a close game in the 6th inning when you may need his bat later in the game.

TimDz said...

Just a little reminder...
There are 159 games left...the bullpen had one bad game.
Everybody off the ledge, please...

NatsJack in Florida said...

The Nyjer Morgan led Brewers are now 0 - 4.

JD said...


Just one more point and I'll quit. I am not at all 'confident' that pitcher 'A' can throw 120 - 130 pitches; what I,m saying is that it behooves the pitching coach to figure out a pitcher's limit based on when they see signs of fatigue i.e loss of command; some pitchers may only be able to throw 100 but some maybe able to throw 150. Using one brush for everyone is just pure laziness; that's all I,m saying.

JD said...


The bottom of their order was Betancourt, Morgan, Nieves and pitcher. Talk about playing with one arm tied behind your back.

N. Cognito said...

TimDz said...
"Everybody off the ledge, please..."

If the 1-2 start doesn't have people on the ledge, reading this thread will put them there.

I think I'll rent Texas Chainsaw Massacre just to get away from the depression.

JayB said...


Well said but like view of Riggs is based on over a year of observations. He is just not the guy who is going to lead a team...any team to a long run of success. He got the job because he works cheap....plain and simple....He will be fired so I would rather do it now....O's are the perfect example of what we should have done....not just this season...look at the 60 or so games last year....night and day!

Anonymous8 said...

Good reading. I have no complaints right now after 3 tough games against a top talent team like the Braves.

Still 159 games to go and I see the cream rising to the top. I also agree that the best 25 of the pool of talent wasn't picked nor were some of the best off-season moves.

On that note, too early to judge to see if Jim Riggleman can manage this team to greener fields.

Whynat said...

Enjoyed the tread. First time STH and looking forward to a good season. Go Nats!

Anonymous said...

Clearly Riggleman is a mundane, average to below average manager. He's not going to let Zimmermann or Gorzelanny go deep into games because then he'd lose his favorite toy: the double switch!

Might as well get used to being marooned on Giggleman's Isle in 2011.

That said, it doesn't matter **how he does it** as long as he does it and that is limiting Zimmermann and Gorzelanny 2 pitchers who could be top of the rotation types but have a history of arm trouble.

Limiting Livo, Lannan, and Marquis makes no sense. All three have pitched more than 200 innings in a season. Bringing up Detwiler, Maya, (And give it a rest peeps! Wang will never pitch as a starter for this team nor any other? His future if there is one will be in a bullpen somewhere.)
and yes, Tom Milone ... watch out for JD Martin who is set up to again be the Syracuse ace. Mock? Why Mock? That is the question one should be asking ... even before Wang.

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