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What to make of Jason Bergmann

Some left-over bits and pieces from a very enjoyable night at the ballpark last night:

I've said it before and I'll say it (too many times) again, but this season is about gathering pieces for the future. Some will be obtained in the traditional way, by trading established guys for prospects, etc. But others will just plop down in your lap. Perhaps that's what Bergmann is.

Here are the arguments - and evidence - in his favor:

Last night, he didn't hit more than 93 mph on the radar gun, and if he can throw his fastball at that velocity and still locate it, all the better. But really, he needs to relax, allow things to flow easily, and keep it at 90-91. The plus: When he does that, he can locate all four of his pitches. In talking to Brian Schneider last night, Bergmann's slider is probably his second-best pitch, an "out" pitch if he has one among his breaking stuff. The curveball he throws isn't one of those huge, drop-like-a-hammer big benders, but a tighter version that doesn't break as much. And he mixed in a handful of changeups last night, too.

Take those four pitches, and throw them where you want them, and it's a dangerous arsenal. Not one of them is overpowering by itself, but you get a grab bag like that, and hitters are guessing. There is no better evidence that Bergmann's stuff is not only major league-worthy, but can get hitters out at alarming rates, than the fact that opponents are hitting .162 against him this year. Here are the leaders in opponents' batting average:

Jason Bergmann, Washington - .162
Jake Peavy, San Diego - .173
Jason Marquis, Chicago Cubs - .183
Rich Hill, Chicago Cubs -- .184
John Maine, New York Mets - .188
Tim Wakefield, Boston -- .189
Matt Cain, San Francisco -- .198
James Shields, Tampa Bay -- .198
Dan Haren, Oakland -- .199
Oliver Perez, New York Mets -- .204
Shawn Hill, Washington -- .204

Bergmann's opponents' OBP is .253, bettered only by Ted Lilly, Shields, Haren and Peavy.

The only guy who's in the same position on the "Who's that?" list as Bergmann has got to be Shields (and maybe, come to think of it, Hill), another 25-year-old. Bergmann was an 11th round selection, Shields a 16th round pick. But I digress. The other guys include some outright studs (Peavy, Cain, Haren) and some guys who are off to some of the finest starts in the majors (Marquis, Hill, Maine, Wakefield). That is very impressive company.

So we know Bergmann's stuff can compete. That brings us to what I think is the most fascinating aspect of all this, and that's Bergmann's mental adjustment. Did Jim Bowden's public undressing of his pitcher help? Well, we know it didn't hurt. But listen to pitching coach Randy St. Claire on all of this. I wanted to get a lot of this into the $.35 edition, but I ran out of that pesky space thing, so Journal readers benefit. (Here's the gamer, for those interested, as well as the notebook about Hill's progress and Casto's demotion, and the podcast, recorded in the press dining room in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid the popcorn blowing cleanup crew. And as a bonus (or an annoyance, depending on how you look at it, here's the clip from "Washington Post Live" yesterday that features me discussing the Nationals with such informed baseball observers as Mike Wise.)

"It's more than just being on top of the ball," St. Claire told me, citing Bergmann's chief mechanical adjustment. "Mentally, he's in a whole different place. He's allowing himself to stay on top of the ball. He's not over-throwing. He trusts his stuff, and he's going after hitters.

"Last year, and even in spring training - though it was getting better in spring training this year - there were still times when he was trying to go too hard. Then, he overthrows, his front flies open, his hand goes to the side of the ball, and the ball goes," and St. Claire swung his hand way out side, mimicking a pitch spinning way out of the strike zone. He did that even in his start last night a couple of times, but mostly when the count was 0-2.

"That's mental," St. Claire said. "That's the hardest part. That's the very hardest part for these kids to deal with. He's doing it. He's throwing the ball outstanding - if he allows himself to.

"That's mental. That's the hardest part. That's the very hardest part for these kids to deal with. He's doing it. He's throwing the ball outstanding - if he allows himself to."

To me, it seems as if Bergmann has established a nice rhythm in this stretch of good starts, and I asked St. Claire if he was working more quickly. St. Claire agreed with the rhythm part, but said he actually had to slow Bergmann's pace down sometimes.

"Before, he'd want it to go even quicker," he said, and then he clenched his face and tensed up to mimic what Bergmann would do. "He'd get the ball and get worked up and throw it harder. He would try harder and harder and harder. And this game doesn't work like that. The harder you try, the worse it gets. That's when you over-swing, that's when you over-throw, that's when you do things that put you in a bad position."

St. Claire said that during Bergmann's last between-starts bullpen session, Bergmann said to him, "It feels easy to pitch." St. Claire shot back.

"You know what? That's the way it's supposed to look. It's supposed to look easy, and it's the hardest [freaking] thing you can possibly do. Does Smoltz make it look like it's hard? It looks so easy when he does it.

"He's got that feeling now. 'I can trust my stuff and let it work.'"

Sounds like this was a mental adjustment to me, no?

Now, does a stretch of seven good starts mean this guy is a sure thing to be a contributor in 2008 and 2009? Of course not. But the club is in a completely different position with him than it was even a month ago. They know he can do it. Whether he will is now as much up to him as anybody.

Oh, and Chris over at Capitol Punishment makes a good point - Nationals fans basically have Jason Simontacchi's balky groin to thank for Bergmann's arrival on the scene. And Basil at Federal Baseball has an excellent look at where Bergmann came from. It's not like he had shown any statistical evidence of this potential. And Steinberg was there last night dealing with the important knitting event.

So enjoy the day. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm "off." Back in my chair on Thursday afternoon for the Braves finale, then all weekend with the O's.

Talk to you later.

By Barry Svrluga  |  May 15, 2007; 12:58 PM ET
 
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