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Nationals in depth-Starting pitching

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  • Nationals in depth-Starting pitching

    The following is the first in a series of weekly stories on examining each Major League club, position by position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Starting rotation.
    WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' rotation became thin this offseason after they lost right-handers Esteban Loaiza and Hector Carrasco to free agency. General manager Jim Bowden tried to sign at least one major free agent to add to the rotation. His top target was right-hander A.J. Burnett, but he signed with the Blue Jays.

    Pretty soon, free agent pitchers such as Kenny Rogers, Kevin Millwood, Jarrod Washburn, Matt Morris and Brett Tomko all turned the Nationals down because their offers weren't to their liking, or they were uncertain about the future of the franchise, which still lacks ownership.

    Bowden didn't add to the rotation until Dec. 29, when he signed free agents Tony Armas Jr. and Ramon Ortiz to one-year contracts. Both players come with risks. Armas, a member of the Nationals/Expos organization since 1997, has been bothered by shoulder problems since 2003, while Ortiz is coming off a subpar season in which he gave up 34 home runs and had a 5.36 ERA. His last respectable season was in 2003, when he went 16-13 with a 5.20 ERA with the Angels.

    But Dr. Tim Kremcheck, the senior consultant for the Nationals, believes that Armas' shoulder problems are behind him, and the team believes that Ortiz will be a better pitcher in a big ballpark like Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

    Washington also is hoping that pitching coach Randy St. Claire can revive their careers like he did with Loaiza, Carrasco and John Patterson last season.

    "Whomever I have, I will do my very best with the people that I have," St. Claire said. "I will try to get the most out of them."

    Staff ace Livan Hernandez, Patterson and newcomer Brian Lawrence are expected to fill out the rest of the staff.

    Hernandez played most of the season with a sore right knee, but he still managed to win 15 games. He had arthroscopic surgery after the season and is expected to be 100 percent when he arrives for Spring Training.

    "Livo took the ball out every fifth day, but he wasn't the same guy," St. Claire said. "He didn't have the same mechanics. He didn't have the same drive with his lower half. His velocity was down a little bit. His sharpness to the breaking ball was a little off, because I didn't think he was using his body the way he could. He did an outstanding job for us considering what he had to go through."

    Patterson turned the corner after struggling during his first eight years in professional baseball. In 2005, "The Big Nasty" pitched a career-high 198 1/3 innings with a 3.13 ERA and a team-leading 185 strikeouts.

    During the month of September, however, Patterson was 1-3 with a 5.63 ERA. St. Claire feels that Patterson ran out of gas and was not used to pitching so many innings during his career. Patterson's career high in innings before 2005 was 127 for Class A High Desert in 1998.

    "I don't think you will see him get tired like he did last year," St, Claire said. "He put in a long year for the very first time. He was dead at the end of the year. This year, I think he will be that much stronger. He has taken the winter off. Hopefully he is doing his weight program. He should have all the confidence in the world."

    Lawrence, who will be the fourth starter in the rotation, had his toughest big-league season in 2005, going 7-15 with a 4.83 ERA for the Padres. During the postseason, he was sent to the bullpen, and he didn't give up a run in 2 1/3 innings against the Cardinals in the National League Division Series.

    Around the Horn: Nationals
    Remaining schedule
    • Starters: Livan to lead retooled rotation
    • Bullpen: January 11
    • Catchers: January 18
    • Corner inf.: January 25
    • Middle inf.: February 1
    • Outfielders: February 8
    • Bench: February 15

    "I had a little bad luck," said Lawrence. "I had a horrible September. I thought I pitched well until the middle of August."

    But the Nationals feel that his performance will improve, as he will be pitching in RFK Stadium, which is larger than the Padres' PETCO Park.

    "[RFK is] definitely a big, spacious park," said Lawrence. "You really have to hit it to get the ball out of there. I really work on movement [and] changing speeds, so having the humidity really helps me. Obviously, having a ballpark that size and a good defense, I'll benefit from that. I'm expecting good things. I'm not going to have the season that I had last year."

    Ryan Drese, Jon Rauch and Darrell Rasner are expected to get a chance to compete for a spot in the rotation.

    Drese and Rauch both had shoulder problems last year. When healthy, though, they can get hitters out on a consistent basis.

    "I like Jon Rauch -- he can throw strikes and he is aggressive -- but he has to stay healthy," St, Claire said. "Drese has to be able to command that sinker and throw it in the strike zone. He was very inconsistent with his arm slot and that was because of his health."

    Rasner struggled in his one September start, but also pitched in relief and gave up no runs in 4 2/3 innings.

    "He has to learn to pitch away from right-handed batters and in on left-handed batters," St Claire said. "That's a consistency issue."

  • #2
    Livan is a horse, an anchor of any rotation. Patterson was actually the team's best pitcher last year and is a certain up and coming star. We still have Cordero and Ayala, who themselves can make a good bullpen. Even though I did like Carrassco, his performance was very flukish and prospects for the future don't look good for him.

    Brian Lawrence was not a good pitcher last year. I'm not usually one to put much stock in won-lost records, but his was horrible and his ERA was the same. An ERA of almost five at PETCO Park is not acceptable. He may do the same for the Nats and still look okay at the end of the season with RFK. I was not opposed to the trade for him, though, because they hardly gave up anything. He at least is an inning eater, which is always worth something.

    Ramon Ortiz is the guy who I think may do well for us. He has gone through a tough few years, but RFK may get him to bounce back to his level of a few years ago. His performance last year came at a really tough park.


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