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One Option For The Staff

Since we've spent much of the last day discussing pitchers, possibilities, etc., here's one idea to consider: At least briefly, a four-man rotation. It's something both Manny Acta and pitching coach Randy St. Claire have discussed, and for several reasons, it might make sense.

The Nationals' schedule during the opening weeks of the season, first of all, enables it. They start with three games, then an off day. Then four more games, another off day. If they use a four-man rotation to start the season, they won't face the possibility of a starter going on less than four days' rest until April 20. Thus, the Nats could basically buy themselves two extra weeks to sort things out with the fifth starter.

Here's one way to look at things.

Let's assume, for the moment, that Washington will break camp with these four -- John Lannan, Daniel Cabrera, Scott Olsen and Jordan Zimmermann -- in the rotation. If they wait two extra weeks to slot the fifth starter they can potentially:

a.) Keep Shawn Hill in the bullpen, let him stretch out his arm, and see how his health is as he moves beyond the baby steps.

b.) Start Collin Balester in Class AAA Syracuse, giving him a few test starts there as he tries to sort out his mechanics

c.) Save an extra pitching spot for somebody in the bullpen.

For now, this is just some idle thinking. Injuries, certain players' progress, athlete's foot -- who knows what variables can arise. But everybody likes options. Even if we argue about the merits of a four-man rotation, there's no doubting the You-Pick-2 at Panera.

By Chico Harlan  |  March 17, 2009; 8:21 AM ET
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Next: Intrasquad Lineups, Hill, Flores, Dmitri


... well my choices would be (in order of preference):

1/ start Tavarez in the pen, and get him ready to make the first 'fifth' start when it comes round.

2/ put Hill in the pen and leave him there for enough time to a/ get him fully ready to start and b/ give Randy and Manny enough time to determine if his arm is fully ready. (This will take much longer than it will take Julie to get ready.)

3/ put Collin in AAA and leave him there for at least half a season; he's not 'bigs'-ready yet. (I offer this about Balestar in recognition that I know next to nothing about the intricacies of 'options' and such, and how those things might impact on this choice.)

Posted by: natscanreduxit | March 17, 2009 8:32 AM | Report abuse

I don't think putting Hill in the pen is an option. I think it would be better for him to start the season in the minors (on the DL if necessary) and build his arm up there, away from the bright lights. If he's in the pen, he'll only get an inning or two at a time - which won't be enough to get him ready to throw 100 pitches.

Balester just doesn't have it right now and he'll need to stay at SYR until he does.

The problem with the 4-man rotation, in my eyes, is that Cheese will get too many starts. I think the way to limit his innings is not to hold him to 5, but to skip starts from time to time. If he's good enough to go 7 innings, then let him. Just skip enough starts so that he makes 25 starts instead of 30. If we go to the 4-man, it will be Hill, in essence, who's getting skipped instead of Cheese.

Unless Hill is a week away come April 6th, I'd just go with the best five: Lannan, Olsen, Cabrera, Zimmermann, Martis in that order for the first month of the season, then re-evaluate. Maybe Balester or Hill will be ready by then to replace which ever one of the rookies is struggling.

I don't think we can count on Tavarez until we see what he has. Pitchers can get old fast, it's possible he's shot.

But I do think the 4-man would be possible if they thought Hill would be ready for the first homestand. If it's just one start, I don't think it'll matter much. My arguement was against pushing it for three weeks or so.

Posted by: sec307 | March 17, 2009 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Kip Wells should be ready for that 20 Apr start.

I think they tried this last year, it didn't work!

Nats finally get some luv from MLB Homeplate XM-175. Holden Kushner must have been biting his tongue when he said this but he was talking up the Nats Young Guns,
Lannen, Zimmermann, Martis, Ballester and with the addition of Olsen and Daniel-Son, he says the Nats have a formidable rotation.

Now this is from the same guy who a week ago said the Nats are horrible, no one in DC even cares about them and DC is has been a major disappointment for MLB. Hmmmmm!

Posted by: TippyCanoe | March 17, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Balester still has his full allotment of option years remaining. If he gets sent down for more than 20 days in 2009, he uses one of those options.

As for his service time towards arbitration, sending him down this year honestly plays almost no role in delaying his arbitration clock. Right now, Balester will be almost certainly be arbitration eligible after the 2011 season. The only way they could push that out any further would be to allow him less than two weeks of major league service time this year. Highly unlikely.

Posted by: Brian_ | March 17, 2009 8:51 AM | Report abuse

I'm with Chico on this one. Z-Cheese is ready. There will be plenty of season to manipulate his workload.

Posted by: longterm | March 17, 2009 9:04 AM | Report abuse

I'm not too worried about Cheese but Hill in the pen worries me. Not sure that's the best place to warm him up. Bergmann even said recently that it's hard going back and forth from the pen to starting.

Posted by: NatsNut | March 17, 2009 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Nobody's making any decisions on Hill right now. They still have three weeks left before they have to decide. He'll probably never get past an inning or two per outing anyway, looks like the bullpen is his destiny. I mean, he's only thrown one inning, and who knows if he's in pain or not, he's certainly not going to tell anyone if he is. The only time he admits to being hurt is when he can't physically throw.

Posted by: Brue | March 17, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

actually, research shows that the best prevention against injury is limiting the pitches thrown per session, NOT the number of days off between starts. You're much more likely to have a healthy rotation if they each get 40 starts at 5-6 innings (and keep the pitches thrown under 100) per start
rather than 35 starts at 6-7 innings.

An additional plus of this approach is that you could take 2 semi-starters (like Hill and Balester) and give them 2 innings every other day after the starter leaves. That's good regular work, and gets you through a big part of the games. Also, this approach lets you pinch hit for the pitcher a little earlier, and perhaps use a specialist in the 5th. Options, safety, and regular work for those who need a lighter workload. What's not to like?

Just sayin'.

Posted by: Section406 | March 17, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

>Start Collin Balester in Class AAA Syracuse, giving him a few test starts there as he tries to sort out his mechanics

He's gonna be down there for more than a few starts. He's not ready.

Posted by: Brue | March 17, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Holden Kushner is a lazy talk show host who not only does not know anything about the Nationals, he also does not know anything about the rest of the major leagues. He clearly does little to prepare for his show often citing fiction as fact. I don't expect casual fans to know know who is on a team's rotation or who led each team in Homerums or batting average, but a baseball talk show host should. He either does not work from notes or he does not have accurate ones.

I like the new morning guy with Buck (Scott Graham?) and the Hacksaw Hamilton guy may be the most prepared broadcaster on that network.

Dibble can't shut up. If he brings the same vomitous style to the Nats broadcast as he does to XM, we're in for a long year. Blather, blather, blather, right Bob, blather, blather, blather....

Posted by: natbisquit | March 17, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Actually, a five-man rotation with a designated reliever could be the best way to manage this problem. Zimmermann and Hill can take turns starting, each knowing that he'll go no more than five innings and each knowing that he'll pitch every fifth day. By alternating, neither man pitches more than 7 or 8 innings in a week.

For those of you older than 30, you'll recall that the Mets did this with Ed Lynch and Rick Aguilera in 1986 - and got the best out of both.

What has been consistently failed to be reported is that Jordan Zimmermann has pitched 187 innings in the minor leagues. Over TWO (2) seasons. He does not turn 23 until May.

Zimmermann throwing 180 innings in 2009 will not make the Nationals a contender, but it could damage his long-term prospects (Can you say Justin Verlander, boys and girls?)

Posted by: Wooden_U_Lykteneau | March 17, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

The only time [Hill] admits to being hurt is when he can't physically throw.

Posted by: Brue | March 17, 2009 9:23 AM

I don't think this is true at all. All during spring training and the beginning of the season last year he said pretty often, "it hurts. it hurts alot but I think I can handle it and I'm trying to pitch through the pain."

In fact, that's what I like so much about him. Seems like he has always been totally honest about what's going on with his arm and was even honest about taking pain pills to get through his starts.

Posted by: NatsNut | March 17, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Some very interesting comments made here on this discussion all pointing to the following--there seems to be a number of approaches to how to use your starting rotation. I'm not an expert by any means, so can anyone explain why the current 5 starter format is so prevalent?

Regarding Zimmermann, I have read that like the catcher prospect from the inferior team up the partway, it may behoove the Nats to place him in the minors for a few weeks to limit his service time. What's folk take on this practice?

Posted by: jfromPG | March 17, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

@jfromPG - There was a mistake in that article. It would take more than a couple of weeks in the minors to delay a player's arbitration year. The author of the article forgot about what are called Super Two players. All players are arbitration eligible after three years of service time. But there is a small subset of players who become arbitration eligible before that. The MLB CBA has the definition

"A player with at least two but less than three years of Major League service shall be eligible for salary arbitration if he has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately preceding season and he ranks in the top 17 percent in total service in the class of Players who have at least two but less than three years of Major League service, however accumulated, but with at least 86 days of service accumulated during the immediately preceding season"

In simpler terms, a player is a Super Two at 2 years and roughly 100+ days of service time. A player would need to spend approximately two months in the minors to avoid being a Super Two, not two weeks.

Posted by: Brian_ | March 17, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

In other news, there's no Nats game today, but the fancy-schmancy Game Day feature with cool graphics looks to be up and running. We now have options to the "live" box score. Rejoice! Of course, it remains to be seen whether the Game Day feature, unlike the "live" box score, is in regular season form. :-D

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 17, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

I think Balester is being ticketed for Syracuse either way. The real questions are whether they want to take a flier on Martis, and whether they want to still give Hill a shot at starting. If they want Hill to start, then I suspect they might give him some minor league work first. If they start him in the 'pen, they'll probably still have to send him down to stretch his arm out before they ask him to go at least 5 in the majors.

Posted by: fischy | March 17, 2009 9:58 AM | Report abuse

p.s. You will need to click on the Game Day tab if this takes you to the box score.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 17, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

"I'm with Chico on this one. Z-Cheese is ready. There will be plenty of season to manipulate his workload.

Posted by: longterm | March 17, 2009 9:04 AM"


... I too, think that J-Zimm is ready for the show now. That's why I was so surprised to read the opinion of another beat reporter whose initials are Ben Goessling, suggest this very day that if Hill turns out to be fit for the rotation, Zimmermann will be sent to the farm.

... shocking, and oh so ridiculous in my view.

(sorry to read the oppostion, but I need all the Nats news I can get, even if it comes from the Moon.)

Posted by: natscanreduxit | March 17, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Makes sense to me to go with the four man rotation early until the schedule dictates otherwise. My biggest worry is that JZ perhaps is being rushed a year to soon. Hopefully it works out because he is so talented. Balester is not quite ready yet, and Martis looks like the real thing also. Future looks bright.

Posted by: cokedispatch | March 17, 2009 10:04 AM | Report abuse

"If they want Hill to start, then I suspect they might give him some minor league work first."

Isn't Hill out of options? If that's the case, I think the only way they can give him minor league work after the season starts would be to pass him through waivers. Either that or put him on the DL, which would allow him a certain amount of minor league rehab time before he comes off.

Posted by: nunof1 | March 17, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Jim from PG,

With a five man rotation, each start makes about 32-33 starts. But with a four man rotation, each guy has to make 40 starts. In today's game, organizations prefer to limit the stress on their pitchers and give them four days in between starts instead of three.

This is not the way it's always been... but it's the way it is today, for better or worse.

Posted by: sec307 | March 17, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

JFromPG: I don't know the exact time it would take and i can't look it up right now but yes if the Nats keep Zimmermann in the minors for a little while they will basically get an extra "free" year out of him. Now there are two distictions If they hold him in the minors for only a few weeks they will turn him in to a "Super Two" player meaning that after this year he will have 2 more years of basic contracts roughly $400K-500K (goes up a bit every year) and 4 years of arbitration. If we hold Zimmermann down a couple of months, say a late May early June arival the Nats will have 6 full years 3 cheap $400-500K and 3 arbitration years. Look at Lannan and Balester this bought us an extra year with them. Why waste a year of Zimmermann if we arent' going to compete. Its not as if this guy has dominated the minors (though he's been very good). I also believe that given the risk of an arm injury that starting him in the minors can be good for his long term health.

Posted by: Steveo11 | March 17, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Brian, you need to be a GM!


Posted by: jfromPG | March 17, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

In other news, new post.

intrasquad (hmmm...Firefox doesn't like it either)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 17, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

"I was so surprised to read the opinion of another beat reporter whose initials are Ben Goessling, suggest this very day that if Hill turns out to be fit for the rotation, Zimmermann will be sent to the farm."

If pigs fly, the newspaper Ben Goessling works for will turn a profit and not need to be fully subsidized by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, too.

Posted by: nunof1 | March 17, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

@nunof -- What I was saying was that if the team is still looking at Hill as a rotation candidate, he will need to get some work in the monors. As you point out, they would probably have to DL him -- though clearing waivers isn't out of the question. To me, it makes sense to DL him, so he can get ready to start in the minors. If they start him out in the Nats' pen, I'd say that's a signal he's not getting the 5th starter job -- at least, not initially. If he's in the pen, I think that's where he'll be until someone else fails or gets hurt. Of course, they may be looking at it the way Chico is.

Posted by: fischy | March 17, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Unless he just can't throw at all, Tavarez makes a ton of sense for the situation you're describing. It's basically a role he filled with boston for two years. He can be in the pen and, if necessary, make a spot start as fifth guy until they make a determination on who they want the fifth guy to be. I'd hold off on Hill for a while, if possible, to figure out what is going on and let him get some work in. Because at some point he'll have to try and throw more than one inning before the season starts.

Posted by: pondaz | March 17, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

>Seems like he has always been totally honest about what's going on with his arm

Dream on. They're never honest. They don't want to lose a shot at the big money. It's someone else who's always shutting him down. That's why he keeps ending up at the doctor's, because if he was honest, he wouldn't end up there. He wouldn't be pitching at all.

Posted by: Brue | March 17, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Brue, are you suggesting they turn the money down? Srsly?

Posted by: CEvansJr | March 17, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

>Brue, are you suggesting they turn the money down? Srsly?

I'm suggesting that Natnut is wrong when he says Hill is being totally honest about the condition of his arm. Because he's not. Like I just said. You want me to say it a third time?

Posted by: Brue | March 17, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I have more confidence at this point in Jordan Zimmermann and Shairon Martis than I have in Daniel Cabrera.

It's neat that the Nats can sign a guy with an ERA over 5.00 and a history of being wild and then pencil him in as the #2 or #3 starter here and expect to improve.

I don't think the Nationals needed to spend $3M to add Cabrera. I think Ballester, Martis, Hill will end up being enough to fill out the rotation in 2009.

I would have preferred that they spent that money on proven middle relievers or on a second baseman.

Posted by: leopard09 | March 17, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Being well over 30 and having been a Mets fan in '86, I can tell you that your Lynch-Aguilera senario did not happen -- Lynch pitched just one game for the Mets that year and in relief. The only time a big league team messes with its starters like that is when somebody gets hurt or the team just plain sucks. I don't recall any successful team using six starters on any kind of semi-regular rotation.

Posted by: nats24 | March 17, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

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