I’m sure there’s going to be some nervous questions with the Nats uneven start in MLB.com 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.