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The importance of the fifth starter

Before we get into why the winner of the Scarrett Olock Sweepstakes may not matter for long, head over to Baseball Insider and check out Sheinin's picks contest.

The Nationals this morning whittled their choices for their fifth starter down to Garrett Mock and Scott Olsen when they optioned J.D. Martin to Class AAA Syracuse. Martin pitched in just three big league games this spring, receiving most of his experience on back fields in minor league intrasquad games.

"In a perfect world, we would have" pitched Martin in more major league games, Manager Jim Riggleman said. "We had to sometimes pick some games on a back field. Probably more often than he should have been, he was back there. Nobody to blame for that.

"He's just one of them guys your root for. He's a consummate professional. He doesn't light the radar gun up, but he knows how to pitch. We still think that we'll be calling him up at some point during the season. The roster you open with is never the roster that you have at the end of the year, sometimes not even three weeks later. We're confident we'll see him again."

That's the thing about the fifth-starter decision. Whether it's Mock or Olsen -- and Mock is the better bet at this point, based on what I'm hearing -- that may not matter for long. Martin, Matt Chico, Shairon Martis, Aaron Thompson and all the other starters who vied for a spot this spring remain in the system.

The job will "absolutely" still be up for competition, Riggleman said, even as the year proceeds. Part of that is the fact that neither Mock nor Olsen has claimed the position with certitude. "Nobody's won the job," Riggleman said. "Somebody is going to get the job. But nobody has won the job."

Once May arrives, the fifth starter will have to compete with far more than those who couldn't win a job out of spring. Chien-Ming Wang will be ready to come off his rehab. Ross Detwiler could be ready. By June, Stephen Strasburg will be entering the competition. The rotation by August could look like this:


1. John Lannan
2. Jason Marquis
3. Stephen Strasburg
4. Chien-Ming Wang
5. Ross Detwiler

Or not. The cavalry is coming, but the cavalry can't be counted upon. Wang is coming off surgery and is no sure thing. Detwiler has pitched more than six innings once in his 15 career starts, and he's never had to deal with rehabbing from hip surgery at the outset of spring. By late August, I'll be writing about when the Nationals will shut down Strasburg because he's reaching his innings limit.

The goal for the Nationals is to cruise and not make many changes. The likely outcome is plenty of changes, and then some changes to those changes.

"If we have the same team in June as we have now, that means we're doing pretty good," Riggleman said. "That's what we want. We would like to not bring people up out of necessity. We want to bring them up in a way that fits our needs here. If that's substantial, then it means we're struggling. I'm hoping we have very few moves. I'm hoping the roster we break with is close to what it is in June and July. It's not unrealistic to say it's going to be the same. The less changes, the better for me. I'm not going into it thinking we're going to different by the end as we are in April.

"I'm hoping that we're playing good enough, when we bring those guys up who are healthy, I'm hoping it's because that's one piece at a time. We're not bringing a load in. This is a piece to help us move up in the standings. I don't want us to be struggling, and we say, 'Okay, let's bring five new guys in.' "

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 31, 2010; 2:03 PM ET
 
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Comments

Mock is fools gold. He is for Rizzo what Austin Kearns was for Bowden, a guy that is continually viewed through rose colored glasses despite his obvious shortcomings on the mound.

Mock is 28 years old. Last year his ERA was out of sight and he has never showed any consistency over a sustained period.

If he is a placeholder until June I suppose that's fine to a degree.

But after so many disappointments, you have to question how much progress is being made when Mock and Hernandez are still considered for the starting rotation here.

Posted by: leopard09 | March 31, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Martin was average last year, and for a Nats pitcher, that's pretty damn good.

Not sure why he didn't really get a chance.

Posted by: CJArlington | March 31, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Bill Walsh once described a certain QB as "just good enough to lose."
Ouch.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 31, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I agree that Martin wasn't really given the same shot this spring that Stammen and Mock were, and I'm not sure why. Certainly his performance last year was every bit as good as theirs. But it's also very true that being in the Opening Day rotation isn't worth a whole lot -- remember last year's rotation? Lannan, Olson, Cabrerra, and Martis. (Because of off days and rainouts, Jordan Zimmerman was the first pitcher other than those four to start a game for us (on Apr. 20!)). And all three Opening Day starters who weren't Lannan were essentially done by July. (Olson came back from his injury for three starts in late June and early July and then was shut down for the season.) So odds are, perhaps unfortunately, that we'll see plenty of J.D. Martin this year.

Posted by: Section222 | March 31, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Adam, August? That may be the rotation at the All Star break and then don't count out Jordan Zimmermann joining the fun!

If Olsen makes it somehow and has a good start, the Nats will have some good trade bait.

Posted by: dmacman88 | March 31, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

If that pitching lineup (projected) doesn't make you smile then I feel bad for you. I know the likelihood of it happening is about 5% but why not enjoy the thought while you can.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | March 31, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

And it is miles away from anyone's "guess the rotation" two years ago!
_______________________________
If that pitching lineup (projected) doesn't make you smile then I feel bad for you

Posted by: lowcountry | March 31, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

AK - even the internet doesn't have a reference to Scarrett Olock, other than what you've posted above. Got a hint for us? (maybe this is just a typo -- you were bound to make one eventually as a WaPo blogger)

Posted by: hats4bats | March 31, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Mock is fool's gold? Compared to Olsen? Eek, I'm not so sure, but there aren't many alternatives now, are there?

And yeah, let's not "bring five new guys in." I'm still recovering from that mental trauma... :-)

Posted by: Juan-John1 | March 31, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

AK - even the internet doesn't have a reference to Scarrett Olock, other than what you've posted above. Got a hint for us? (maybe this is just a typo -- you were bound to make one eventually as a WaPo blogger)

Posted by: hats4bats | March 31, 2010 4:07 PM

SCott gARRETT OLsen mOCK

Posted by: Kev29 | March 31, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Kev. Never had a clue that he was going there.

Posted by: hats4bats | March 31, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

The Nats were 12th in MLB this off-season in free agent spending.

#4

Posted by: db423 | March 31, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

I prefer Gatt Molsen for their combination name. Just sounds like a good baseball moniker. Dibble could say, "Gatt's missing bats today, folks!" Or, "Molsen brewed up a three-hitter this afternoon."

Then again, I may be weird because I'm always amused by name combinations for some reason.

Posted by: faNATic | March 31, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Gatt Molsen is more of a football name. Scarrett Olock sounds like an old-timey baseball guy.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 31, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Gatt Molsen sounds too much like a Canadian Brewer...
On the other hand, Scarrett Olock sounds a bit too much Gone with the Wind....

Posted by: TimDz | March 31, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

The Nats were 12th in MLB this off-season in free agent spending.
#4
Posted by: db423 | March 31, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the info. The Nats start from a very low base. Where are the Nats in 2010 in overall payroll, like 25th of 30? If that high? And, since the Lerners took over, where do the Nats rank over all the years in free agent spending? Down toward the bottom, I guess.

Free agents aside, the Nats have never under the Lerners traded for a player making average MLB salary or higher--which is disgraceful.

Please, no more below-slot signability picks in the June draft. In past drafts, the Nats have also been burned by their "slot" picks, too--passing up prospects they knew were better because they wanted over-slot money. I just can't cheer their spending yet until they open up a little.

Posted by: EdDC | March 31, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Great googly-mooks, what was going on at the field today? No wind, seemingly perfect baseball weather & we get 25 hits, 12BB, & EIGHT errors combined? WOW!

Posted by: BinM | March 31, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

D'oh! Luckily, I didn't Google it to find out who that was. :-)

(I think it sounds like an herbal tea.)

---

SCott gARRETT OLsen mOCK

Posted by: Kev29 | March 31, 2010 4:12 PM

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 31, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

To be fair, the traded-for thing is skewed by the fact that they haven't had much to trade away that would BRING an above-average, "name" player, so their opportunities to do so were restricted. Soriano, for instance, was pre-Lerners, but that was a surprise to most, and is still not universally admired around here.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 31, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

"Gatt" Molsen sounds like a '30s Vegas mobster.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 31, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Interesting bit on options re Olsen in NFA:
http://natsfarm.com/
The Nationals are quickly reaching the point where they are going to have to make some final decisions on the composition of the 25-man roster. With today’s option of RHP JD Martin to Triple-A, the #5 spot in the rotation is down to RHP Garrett Mock or LHP Scott Olsen. Referring back to my analysis of option status, Mock has one option remaining while Olsen has one (maybe two).

However, a lesser known rule came to light yesterday when the Mariners placed Ryan Garko on waivers, even though he still had an option remaining. Keith Law tweeted the rule earlier today:

Three years after a player’s first day on a major league roster, he can no longer be optioned without clearing revocable “optional waivers.”

Since Olsen mad his major league debut on June 25, 2005, it would appear the Nationals would have to place Olsen on revocable optional waivers to send him to Triple-A. Whereas Mock made his debut on June 8, 2008 and therefore would not require the same move. It’s a minor point but one worth watching. If the Nats opt for Mock over Olsen, Olsen will need to pass through revocable waivers (meaning he can be pulled back if another team claims him).

Just one more nuance of MLB’s overabundance of rules.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 31, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

To Leopard09:
Mock is not 28, he is 26, soon to turn 27 (April 25). Not disagreeing with anything else you wrote.

Posted by: dabagley | March 31, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

About Martin, Riggleman tells it all when he says, "He doesn't light the radar gun..." I suppose that's why he never got a real shot. Meanwhile, Mock got five starts this spring, winding up 0-4 with a 5.79 ERA. Last year Mock was 3-10 with a 5.62 ERA. In Martin's last 11 appearances (all starts) as a Nats hurler last summer, he was 5-2 with a 3.71 ERA. What am I missing?

And I'm not at all sold on Olsen. In his three full seasons with Florida, his Ks/9 innings went in the wrong direction from 8.3 to 6.8 to 5.0. I guess that didn't alarm Jim Bowden who happily took him off the Marlins' hands.

It won't take long for Olsen and Mock to play themselves out of work, but it didn’t have to be this way.

Posted by: gibson0 | March 31, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Gibson0, believe me ... Batista and Hernandez DO NOT light up anyone's radar gun. Their Dominican Republic or Cuban cigar yes. Radar gun NO. They are also good at lighting up lie detectors when asked about their ages.

I would guess the Martin easily outdoes Hernandez and Batista but around 10MPH on the gun.

This is stupid politics on a last place team that needs to do better? You absolutely have to question the wisdom involved in their decision making.

Posted by: periculum | March 31, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

"Great googly-mooks, what was going on at the field today? No wind, seemingly perfect baseball weather & we get 25 hits, 12BB, & EIGHT errors combined? WOW"

Good teams' play tends to drop down to the level of their opponents, especially when there is nothing riding on the outcome.

Guess which was the "good" team today, which the lower-level opponent?

Posted by: JohnRDC | March 31, 2010 7:06 PM | Report abuse

JohnRDC:

I don't think that was a "dropping to the level of the opponent", as much as it was just a incredibly poorly played game by both sides. I based the comment on how sloppy it was, seemingly from both sides.

Posted by: BinM | March 31, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

LOL! Seriously.

---

"Gatt" Molsen sounds like a '30s Vegas mobster.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 31, 2010 6:12 PM |

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 31, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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