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Matt Chico's demotion, Cristian Guzman's view on the shortstop job, Nyjer Morgan's hamstring and Jamie Burke's surgery

Matt Chico entered the spring in competition for a spot in the Nationals' rotation, but even he knew that he was, at best, a dark horse. He had not pitched in the majors since the middle of 2008, when he was throwing 80-mph fastball and he learned he would need Tommy John surgery to continue his career.

Both Chico and the Nationals were happy with his spring training - he proved himself healthy and, for the first time in years, able to throw with competitive velocity. But the team still wants Chico to fine-tune his delivery and pitches, so Chico today was optioned to Class AAA Syracuse.

"All of us want to make the 25-man roster," Chico said. "I feel like I had probably the longest shot of anyone in here. The only thing I could to do, that I wanted do, was come in and show that I'm healthy, show that I can throw some pitches a little better than I was before. I feel like I did that."

He convinced General Manager Mike Rizzo. When he talked to Chico this morning, Rizzo told him he had not seen him pitch so well since Chico was coming up with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Rizzo was a executive with the team.

"His arm looks better," Rizzo said. "He looks stronger and more crisp than he did when he started the 31 games for us" in 2007.

Chico is the first pitcher who seemingly had a decent chance at landing the fifth starter role to be sent to the minors. Eventually, he'll be joined by a host of others in the group that includes Garrett Mock, J.D. Martin, Shairon Martis, Craig Stammen, etc. When a winner emerges, all those other pitchers will still be in the organization, pitching in the minors and still hoping to grab a spot.

The Nationals will have a tough balance. They won't want their No. 5 start looking over his shoulder. Then again, "that's kind of the nature of being the fifth starter," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "There's a shorter leash on them."

"The team that will go north is going to be the team that we're playing with," Rizzo said. "Certainly, performance will dictate if you stay around or not. We're going to go with a fixed team when we leave spring training here. Players shouldn't be looking over their shoulder. But there comes a come when, if you're not performing and somebody is performing, we've shown before we're certainly willing to make a move. That's what players with options are for."

* * *
Cristian Guzman got back in the lineup today, his first day starting at shortstop since he returned from Washington, where his wife gave birth to a baby girl. Riggleman said he and Ian Desmond are in "open competition" for the starting shortstop job. Guzman feels the job is his to lose.

"No," Guzman said when asked if he needed to win the job. "It doesn't matter. I'm not in competition with him."

Guzman today had a chance to make a throw that tested his arm, which he is still building up after undergoing shoulder surgery last fall. After fielding a ball to his right, he made an errant throw and was charged with an error.

* * *
The Nationals are going to continue their ultra-conservative handling of Nyjer Morgan's strained hamstring. Morgan said he feels like he could play right now. But the Nationals will not let him play until Monday, and even then he is going to play in a minor league game. He'll take at-bats, but he won't be allowed to run full speed.

* * *
The Nationals also reassigned catcher Jamie Burke and reliever Doug Slaten to minor league camp. Two days, Burke underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, an injury he sustained after a sequence of plays over the past couple of weeks.

Burke will stay in Viera to rehab. He had been hobbling badly before the surgery, which he said actually made him feel better. The timing hurt him in trying to stick with the organization.

"The only bad part is, you're an invitee who wants to make an impression," Burke said. "That's a bad situation."

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 20, 2010; 3:29 PM ET
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Next: The trouble with Cristian Guzman's arm


Point 1 - Chico is probably where he belongs. In SYR, he'll have a chance to build arm strength & get innings against 4-A hitters.
Point 2 - Morgan should be 100% by opening day - Losing a leadoff hitter hurts, but if it's limited to Viera, no big deal.
Point #3 - Burke's knee problem could ripple down the the Nationals system. Burke was most likely a #2 in SYR, so they either hope a FA (like Maldonado) can play at SYR, or they bump a couple of players up. It's not a big deal, but it puts some additional pressure on the farm clubs.

Posted by: BinM | March 20, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

I need a better read on Riggleman's definitions of "perform" and "performance."

Is he talking about performance at the MLB playoff level, or at the (much lower) level of the Washington Nationals? We're really a AA and AAA team, aren't we, with two or three obvious exceptions?

Posted by: JohnRDC | March 20, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Jamie Burke is the best, a guy who really loves the game. Hopefully the Nationals will give him a chance.

Posted by: MStark124 | March 25, 2010 11:42 PM | Report abuse

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