Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Ladson’s Inbox 4/18/13


I’m sure there’s going to be some nervous questions with the Nats uneven start in Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson‘s latest mailbox (dated 4/18/13).  Lets dive in.

Q: Will the Nationals stick with right-hander Dan Haren for long if he continues to struggle?

A: I would think so.  You can’t judge a pitcher after 3 starts.  But you can start to make changes after about 6-8 starts.  The big concern with Dan Haren right now is clearly his control; he’s missing out over the plate a lot, and he’s getting hammered.  He’s not going to overpower you; he relies on control and command and a sinking fastball.  Right now he’s struggling with all three.  He’s giving up a TON of hits (26 in 13 innings) for a very ugly WHIP.  But he’s not walking anybody (1 walk on the season).

Is he washed up?  That’s hard to imagine; he’s only 32.  His money is guaranteed; will his immense salary give the team pause to replace him?  They didn’t hesitate to send down John Lannan and his $4M salary last spring … but $13M is a different story.

Ladson second guesses the acquisition, which I think is pretty gutless if he’s not on record before with these concerns (which I cannot say that I recall seeing).  Otherwise he says its early and check back in a month.

Q: What is Plan B for Haren’s spot in the rotation?

A: Well now that’s a good question.

Your AAA candidates right now aren’t exactly enticing.  They’re in AAA for a reason.   Yunesky Maya has proven several times why he isn’t a MLB quality player and is playing out the string in Syracuse.  Danny Rosenbaum couldn’t make the Rockies rotation, one of the worst in the game (but to be fair, he’s still a prospect and could turn into a new version of Tommy Milone with some more seasoning).  Ryan Perry hasn’t looked convincing since his acquisition.  Ross Ohlendorf hasn’t looked bad so far this year in Syracuse, but he’s sort of like the 2013 version of Zach Duke, a guy who couldn’t catch on with a MLB team so he’s trying his luck on a ML contract.  Tanner Roark has been awful so far this year and likely gets replaced in the rotation by … Chris Young, who looks to be the #1 call-up option once he’s back throwing regularly, but again, if he was that good, he’d have picked up with another team.  We don’t really have any upper-end starting prospects anywhere in the system right now close enough to be a decent option either.  The best bet even in AA is Nathan Karns and he’s been awful so far  (wish you had Alex Meyer back yet?  3 starts and a 1.69 ERA so far for Minnesota’s AA team).  The Nats have very little starting pitching depth, we all knew it, and Haren’s troubles are somewhat of a nightmare situation for the team.

Ladson says simply that Chris Young is next in line.

Q: Even if Johnson is not worried about Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing errors, do you think we should be worried?

A: Davey Johnson is clearly protecting his player in the media right now.  Ryan Zimmerman‘s arm is a HUGE concern for this team.  He’s getting very close to a Steve Sax/Chuck Knoblock mental state where he literally cannot make any routine throw any longer.  And that’s really bad for this team, which has no place to put him.  The team just had to acquire Denard Span, which pushed the plus-defender Bryce Harper to left, which cost the team Michael Morse.

Lest you think I’m being a “hind sight is 20/20” hypocrite here, I’m on record pretty plainly that I didn’t think the Span deal was “necessary,” and pointed out a lot of the issues that we now face in terms of players being blocked and of the loss of Meyr.  One of my oft-repeated mantras is that you “can hide players in left and at first base.”  Meaning, you don’t need a gold glover at 1B or in LF if it means more offense.  But that’s not what Mike Rizzo has chosen to do in Washington.  Instead he ran out of town the lesser defender Morse (if you do want a dose of hindsight analysis, Morse is only leading the AL in Homers as we speak and has a 160 OPS+).

Well, now Zimmerman can’t move to first for at least two years, and LaRoche can’t play anything but first base (Morse could at least lumber around left field if he wasn’t on the sac).  Zimmermandoesn’t rate as a 2nd baseman … so Anthony Rendon is seemingly blocked right now.  Nobody’s going anywhere in the outfield … the Nats are locked into this lineup whether they like it or not.

So, yeah I’m worried.

Ladson says he trusts what Johnson says and also thinks that Zimmerman’s shoulder isn’t 100pct.  What!?  Since when has anyone said that?  In fact, all we’ve heard all spring training is that his shoulder is ready to go.

Q: Does Daniel Rosenbaum have a future in the Nationals’ organization, and if not, what do you see the Nats doing with him?

A: We alluded to Rosenbaum briefly above; lets talk about him in more depth.  I think Rosenbaum represents the kind of softer-tossing control lefty that Rizzo doesn’t entirely favor.  He wants a guy who can miss bats, power pitchers with higher K potentials.  Rosenbaum’s numbers in AAA so far look great at a macro level (2 starts, 6 hits allowed an a sterling 0.82 era) but there’s one rather troubling number: only 3 strikeouts in 11 innings.  In AA last year he had 99 Ks in 155 innings.  I just don’t think that’s enough swing-and-miss potential to be effective in the modern game.  Rizzo traded away Milone, who features as a similar pitcher to what Rosenbaum offers, for somewhat similar reasons.

What is his future?  Perhaps continuing to serve as a backup starter in the minor leagues, perhaps serving as trade fodder for the next off-season’s manouverings.  Ladson says the same essentially.

Q: Do you think Johnson should have had Zimmerman play more innings during Spring Training to get comfortable with his throwing motion?

A: The number of spring training innings for established veteran hitters is immaterial; Spring Training is almost entirely so that the pitching staff can build up the arm strength needed to go 6-7 innings from day one.  So, no, I don’t think any change in time played in Viera would have made a difference here.   Ladson agrees.

Q: Why is the bulk of our lineup sitting in the Marlins series (Danny Espinosa, Bryce Harper, Denard Span)?

A: Harper and Span because they had the flu, Espinosa because he got a huge bruise from a HBP.  Nothing nefarious here.  Ladson confirms/agrees.

15 Responses to 'Ladson’s Inbox 4/18/13'

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  1. Hey – funny story. I was in NYC this weekend for a friend’s birthday party, so my wife and I decided to treat ourselves and stay at the New York Palace hotel. We are waiting for our car this morning when my wife overhears a group of people talking and goes ‘I think these people are waiting for some sports guys’. Next thing I know, Chad Tracy walks out and the group rush over to get him to sign some baseball cards, etc (this is about 9:00am). He does and tells the doorman to get him a taxi. As it is being flagged down, a younger kid comes bouncing out of the hotel, waves off the group trying to get him to sign by saying ‘I gotta go’ and runs across the street to catch Tracy’s cab. I hadn’t paid attention to anything this weekend, but the kid looks familiar and finally I realize it is Rendon, which is kind of a shock since I didn’t know he had been called up. I yell over to the group to confirm that it is Rendon, and they tell me Zimmerman got DL’d. I wait a little bit (taking forever for my car to be brought around) and finally decide to get a coffee across the street at Starbucks, and in walks Ross Detwiler in a suit with backpack, and gets in line right behind me. I didn’t say anything to him. Pretty cool, though.


    21 Apr 13 at 3:06 pm

  2. I was watching a game yesterday…might have been the Phillies, I forget offhand…and they were talking about a pitcher who had shoulder surgery and “…it usually takes about a year for a player to fully recover from that…about the same for a position player…” and I thought of Zimmerman, the surgery in the offseason and how it won’t even be a year at the end of this season. So…we’ve been lied to about Zimmerman this entire time? You know, if Rizzo (or someone up there) had just come out and said “Yeah, Zim isn’t 100% and probably won’t be for a while.” I would have adjusted my expectations considerably and that would be cool. But if they’ve been bullshitting fans about his shoulder and capabilities, I’m going to be really, really pissed off.

    That having been said, Zimmerman is out of the line up and they STILL managed to pull off 3 errors today. THREE! Four if you count that Werth 3-0 head scratcher. Against the Mets! I’m not sure what would be easier at this point, the Nats trying to get their act together or MASN hiring back Rob Dibble and trying convince Nats fans that it’s still 2010 and things will improve soon. It was just pathetic. About the only good thing from today’s game was Anthony Rendon who didn’t do anything substantial but showed some real promise.


    21 Apr 13 at 6:46 pm

  3. That is cool. I bet Rendon looked like a little kid compared to a grizzled veteran like Chad Tracy.

    I would have turned around to Detwiler and told him, “hey, don’t tell anyone else but you’ve probably got the 2nd best stuff on the team and you’re the Nats secret weapon right now.”

    Todd Boss

    22 Apr 13 at 9:31 am

  4. Zimmerman: I was under the impression the surgery was a “minor” procedure to do “clean-up” and not a major surgery like a torn labrum or something. Baseballprospectus called it an “arthritic bone surgery” done on 10/25/12.

    All the beat reporters basically said the same thing the day he had surgery (google ryan zimmerman 10/25/12 surgery and you’ll get all the links from our beat reporters easily enough). An example :
    Recovered in 6 weeks, “fully healthy” for start of Spring Training per Rizzo in a WP Kilgore story the day of the surgery.

    Well, clearly now we’re hearing something different. TEN weeks from 10/25/12 would have only have been the first of the year. Spring training was a month after that, and even given that he still basically missed the first three weeks of spring training “recovering.” That mean that he was actually out 4 1/2 months of baseball activities, and now we’re hearing BS like, “oh well he’s still recovering from the procedure he won’t be 100% for a while.”

    The team had taken such a good step forward defensively last year, and now seems to be taking such a big step backwards this year. Even Harper mentally blew a play yesterday, which is incredibly rare for him. Yes, he may get amped up and overthrow a cutoff guy, but i’ve never seen him lolly gag to a baseball and allow an extra base. The 3-0 GIDP was really, really bad too. From a veteran guy, who should have read the situation and realized that the team had that pitcher on the ropes.

    Todd Boss

    22 Apr 13 at 9:41 am

  5. You know, one scenario I hadn’t thought about which actually seems to be the most plausible is that Zimmerman himself has been BSing everyone about the shoulder. I say the most plausible because I have a hard time imagining Zim babying an otherwise fine shoulder and I have an equally hard time imagining the organization BSing everyone and hoping no one catches on. It’s not that much of a stretch, however, to imagine a player saying “Sure, it feels fine” and trying to pull that off until it becomes obvious to the blind that it’s not fine, which is what this looks like to me. Time will tell.

    I think the key word in your observation is “mental” which really sucks because the only thing that is going to get the Nats back on track is the Nats. I can’t help but wonder if Davey has micromanaged the team into such a state that they’re more like 9 guys standing around on a baseball field instead of a team. That sure describes how they play sometimes.


    22 Apr 13 at 1:40 pm

  6. When the Nats signed Zimmerman to that contract, Jon Heyman quoted an opposing executive as saying that the Nats had “two $100M contracts but zero $100M players.” You know, its hard to argue. Zimmerman’s injury list is very, very long already for a guy his age. Why is he so brittle? Is he just not in shape? I hate to pass judgement like this, but there was a picture of the Nats going to a Nascar race in Spring Training and Zimmerman just looked Fat.

    I’m not sure this recovery is on Zimmerman; when the official party line says 6 weeks and then he’s not ready 4 months later … that’s on management I think. Now Espinosa hiding his injury? that’s a different story.

    A recurring theme in Boswell’s chat today (which i’m coming around on) is chemistry. Did the Nats screw around with their clubhouse chemistry too much by trying to create the perfect uber defensive team? It could be; you can’t have 25 uber serious introverts in a clubhouse; you need guys who will make you laugh. Did they get rid of all their 2012 guys who could accomplish that (Morse, DeRosa primarily)?

    Todd Boss

    22 Apr 13 at 3:10 pm

  7. Yeah, the constant seriousness is hard to miss. The only guys I see smile on any kind of regular basis are Gio and Ross.

    I suppose the other side of this coin is that it’s only April and I’m starting to sound like a Phillies fan. Now THOSE people have something to be bitter about!


    22 Apr 13 at 6:25 pm

  8. Ironically Rendon would give the clubhouse a lift … except that he’s clearly heading back down when Zimmerman returns. And as long as Gio struggles, he’s likely to keep his mouth shut. You have to execute in order to be loud and funny, right?

    It is kind of ironic that one season of success (which was surprising to all of us, right) has now made the fanbase very edgy about a .500 start. We’re likely to lose tonight as well; I’ve got the SP matchup as even (Detwiler vs Wainwright) before Strasburg likely getting off the schnide tomorrow.

    Todd Boss

    23 Apr 13 at 1:03 pm

  9. Well, I don’t know about the rest of the fan base but 2006, 2007, 200, 2009 & 2010 are still fresh in my mind and there’s no guarantee that last year wasn’t a fluke. So yeah, a .500 start kind of sucks because I’m kind of tired of saying “Next year they won’t suck”.

    I won’t mind too much if Detwiler isn’t kicking ass and taking names tonight. He should have three wins to his name right now and it’s not his fault he doesn’t, he can have an off night. If they had 4 more Detwilers they’d probably be leading Atlanta.

    Gotta get ready to head out…I’m going to a minor league game tonight and forgetting the Nationals exist. :-)


    23 Apr 13 at 5:59 pm

  10. Oh…but one last thing…I figured Rendon wouldn’t stay in DC but the way Johnson worded it kind of sucked. As I read it, it was more or less “I don’t care if Zimmerman sucks, Rendon is going back to Harrisburg”. Good for me, I live 30 minutes from Harrisburg but kind of a sh**ty way to put it.


    23 Apr 13 at 6:00 pm

  11. I’m looking at the teams that the Nats have had to play so far and the pitching matchups, and while I think they should have done slightly better frankly 10-10 isn’t a half-way bad result. Here’s a list of the starters they’ve lost against thus far: Bailey, Cueto, Tehran, Hudson, Maholm, Sanabia, Harvey, Gee, Miller and Wainwright.

    That’s losses to three aces (Cueto, Wainwright, Harvey) and four near aces/#2 starters (Bailey, Hudson, Miller, Maholm the way he’s looked so far in 2013) out of 10 losses. Most good teams would struggle to win these games. The other three losses to lesser pitchers (Gee, Sanabia, Tehran) were less defensible but each explainable (didn’t hit vs Gee, Haren was awful vs Sanabia and the bullpen imploded vs Tehran, wasting Detwiler’s start).

    And their schedule doesn’t get any easier; 4 games vs the Reds where at best the Nats only have a favorable starting pitching matchup in one of them, then on the road for what could be a very telling 4-game series in Atlanta. Its just a really tough April schedule. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team a few games under .500 this time next week.

    I’m worried about things here and there … but not entirely worried.

    Todd Boss

    24 Apr 13 at 11:04 am

  12. I think Johnson had to say it that way to protect Zimmerman, who’s just been getting blasted in the press (local and national) over his throwing issues. Zimmerman said all the right things too, saying he was “rooting for the kid.”

    It cannot be a good time for Zim; he’s always hurt anway, and a hamstring strain on top of all the other issues he’s had must be frustrating. The team’s #1 prospect is a plus-plus defense 3rd baseman who was college player of the year as a sophomore and can really hit. You can’t throw the ball from 3rd to 1st anymore. And if push comes to shove, there’s noplace to put him if he’s hitting .210 and has made 15 errors by july 1st.

    Todd Boss

    24 Apr 13 at 11:07 am

  13. Your comment inspired me to write a post and look at the tough april vs other month schedules. Found the results interesting enough to turn into a new post….

    Todd Boss

    24 Apr 13 at 12:00 pm

  14. After today’s game…the downside is the freefall continues and they’re back to having a losing record for the first time in a long, long time. Which sucks. I’m also surprised CNN hasn’t carried the news of Danny Espinosa found hanging from a lamppost in the southeast. He blew the very first play of the game and if Strasburg’s batting average isn’t actually better than Espinosa’s, it’s damn close. I’d think a cardboard cutout of a baseball player would do better at this point. At least it would have a chance of drawing a walk at the plate. LaRoche looks like he’s done. After he struck out in the 8th, I’d have fired him on the spot. I’m seriously wondering if he even cares anymore.

    The upside is that they weren’t TERRIBLE. They did manage a couple of runs against the Cards and Strasburg and Storen both seemed to have a sense that they are pitchers on a big league baseball team. Always a plus.


    24 Apr 13 at 4:55 pm

  15. I’m going to write up something on Strasburg tmrw … i’m guessing that Lombardozzi is going to be starting at 2nd for a bit, and Moore will get starts against lefties for the time being too. Otherwise the Nats can’t really do much to shake things up.

    Todd Boss

    24 Apr 13 at 9:17 pm

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