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The shortstop competition continues, Luis Atilano is sticking around, and morning links

I wanted to get to a couple of quick, leftover items this morning. Yesterday, Jim Riggleman said there remains "no question" that either Ian Desmond or Cristian Guzman would be the starting shortstop. "We're using spring training to determine it," he said. The Nationals want to make the decision with four or five days remaining before opening day, waiting to give Guzman an opportunity to strengthen his shoulder as much as he can.

"We're going to monitor his throwing progress, and we'll see where he's at at the end of spring training," General Manager Mike Rizzo said. "I'm not concerned at all. He's 100-percent healthy. The arm works good. It feels good for him. It's an arm strength thing right now. We think the more he throws, the more he stretches it out, the more strength will come and he'll be back to his usual self."

Rizzo was asked if he could envision a scenario in which both Desmond and Guzman made the team.

"I'm not going to speculate," Rizzo said. "I've always said Desmond is going to be an everyday player somewhere, either in the big leagues or in Triple A. We'll stick to that statement. The competition is going to go on, and we'll see where we're at in 13 days."

Of the 35 players remaining in major league camp, Luis Atilano may be the most overlooked. After a horrendous, four-run debut this spring, Atilano hasn't allowed a run in his last three outings.

A 24-year-old right-hander who made it to Syracuse last year, Atilano is a starter whom the Nationals are keeping around as an insurance policy for their bullpen. It doesn't sound like he has much of a shot to make the 25-man roster unless something changes, but, hey, he's still here.

"We're looking at him down the road more as a potential starter in the organization," Riggleman said. "But he's still hanging in there right now, competing for some innings here in the bullpen. We haven't stretched him out to where he could really start. We've got a guy there we're confident in that if anything happens to anybody else, if anybody is a little tender or whatever, that he's still with us and can contribute somewhere in that bullpen."

Also, Stephen Strasburg is going to make his first spring training start as part of the Nationals' minor league camp. We know Strasburg will start in the majors at some point this year. This weekend, we guessed June 4. Baseball Prospectus went with May 22. Strasburg will join a long line of college phenoms to debut in the majors.

Elsewhere, Ivan Rodriguez is starting to make an impact with the Nationals young pitching staff. While one 2009 Nationals reliever landed a job, another lost his.

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 24, 2010; 8:45 AM ET
 
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Comments

The fact that Desmond might be given the starting job is, in the abstract, a good thing in my view. Guzman isn't going to contribute anything to the long-term success of the team, and Desmond has had plenty of time in the minors. It's time to see if he can hack it as a major-league SS.

But as is often the case with this type of situation for the Nats, as an organization they've handled it horribly. A well-run team does not go into Spring Training saying that a veteran is going to be the starting shortstop on Opening Day and that there is no competition, and then reverse itself and create a "competition" with a few weeks left before the bell rings. Especially when the vet is rehabbing from an injury and off-season surgery. We've heard time and again how Spring Training "doesn't count" and that the purpose is to let guys get ready for the regular season in their own way. Fair enough; but then if that's the case, a well-run team does not tell Guzman that he is the starting shortstop so that he can prepare for the regular season in Spring Training as he deems best, and then tell him with three weeks to go "hey, guess what, you've got to beat out the rookie in Spring Training to keep your job." If Guzman is injured he should go on the DL, but that's a different question.

Again, I would have been all for a competition from Day One. But the way that the Nats have handled this is just another example showing that they really don't know what they're doing. Either they wanted a competition in Spring Training, or they didn't. That decision should have been made a long time ago, and it should have been made clear a long time ago to the players involved.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | March 24, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Does this set up the possibility that Guz starts on the DL and stays behind for extended Spring Training? In that scenario what happens when he is healthy?
On a seperate news, good for Luis I am glad he has been able to come back from Tommy John surgery and work his way back into the minds of the front office folks.

Posted by: markfd | March 24, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

CiL, I think you are looking for flaws with the Nats when they aren't there. If Guz showed up 100% healthy I think the job was his; that he has shown in ST he isn't 100% open the door for Desmond. I think this is a problem with Guz's arm and not the Nats front office.

I do agree with the thought that this year we see if Des is a guy who we pencil in for years or if it is another position of need, so since we are going nowhere why not see. But I thought the same thing with Dukes too...

Posted by: SCNatsFan | March 24, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

No, SC. If Guzman is not 100% then he should go on the DL as he continues to rehab, as I said before. But if that were the case, it's not a "competition."

Rizzo, on the other hand, is saying that Guzman is 100% healthy. Yet now there is a competition when there wasn't one coming in to Spring Training.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | March 24, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

I gotta agree with CiL. I'm not great fan of Goozie, and I wish they could move him. But there's an old axiom that one never loses his starting job due to injury. That would appear to be the case here. Desmond has a much, much higher upside than Goozie, whom I believe we all agree has sort of peaked in his quest for mediocrity. But to shift gears halfway through ST, and say the job is basically open, is sort of a slap at Goozie. Which, come to think of it, is not a bad thing. Why can't we package Goozie, Harris and maybe one of our stable of mediocre starters for a decent prospect or two? We're going to lose 90 to 100 games -- anybody up for the Century Hat Trick? -- why can't we do it with 20-somethings who might be here for awhile?

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | March 24, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

We got Atilano for Daryle Ward from the Braves, I think. Just going on memory here, y'all, not looking it up.

(If I am wrong, I guess he came from the Dodgers for Marlon Anderson).

Trying to establish some Nats Geek cred.

+1/2St.

Posted by: kevincostello | March 24, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

CiL has it right. I would add my vote to the view that the Nats don't know what they're doing. Never have, since the Lerners took over.

Riggleman is exhibit 1. Rizzo Exhibit 2.

The handling of the middle infield is Exhibit 3.

So an alleged ML team is going into the reular season with no set starting rotation and no set middle infield, plus a woeful 1st baseman and a very questionable LF (I mean defense) and no regular RF.

Good luck with that, folks. But let's remember, Riggleman came cheap.

But I'll soon be able to listen to Carpenter tell me all the good things that are about to happen and then I'll be happy.

Posted by: JohnRDC | March 24, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

I'm with CiL and Sunshine. The front office can't seem to make up it's mind whether spring training matters or not. It's one thing if Guzman isn't recovered enough to start on Opening Day, but quite another for there to be a "competition" for the job that he loses because he is carefully preparing for the regular season. Another example -- Dukes is the starting right fielder coming into camp, then all of a sudden he's gone. Presumably if he were hitting the cover off the ball that wouldn't have happened. But the fact that Maxewell is hitting .100 doesn't rule him out as the replacement.

Posted by: Section222 | March 24, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

JohnRDC,

Exhibit 1 should be the lack of money spent on players. In other words, "cheapness"

CIL is correct this is another example of the flying by the seat of our pants, not sure what we're doing, trying to get by cheaply with cheap hires, Lerner leadership.

If Guz is hurt put him on the DL until he's ready.

And for those who want to get rid of Guz like he is an unwanted zit. After Desmond, who is the backup if he goes down or can't cut it at the ML level?

Espinosa is not even close to being ready so, please don't throw his name out there.

Posted by: Section505203 | March 24, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Let see Strasburg and Storen sent down. Now maybe Desmond. Wow how good is that!!! This team is so loaded with great players that talented rookies like this can't make the roster.

Posted by: billm32 | March 24, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Yes, Atilano for Ward, in 2007 IIRC.

"The Nationals acquired first baseman Daryle Ward and outfielder Norris Hopper from the White Sox for cash.
Ward and Hopper, former major leaguers, were playing for Triple-A Charlotte. Both will report to Triple-A Syracuse. The Nationals just needed warm bodies at Syracuse. Ward has played 11 seasons in the majors with six different teams. He hit .308 with six homers and 19 RBI in 78 games with the Nationals in 2006 before being traded to the Braves."

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 24, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

So cheer up. There IS life after Natstown. Despite what you may have heard, there are stops on the line after this one.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 24, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

except it says 2006 right there. my how time flies.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 24, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

IMO you have plenty of Nats geek cred, PHS. ;-)

In other news, I enjoyed the piece on Pudge. Thanks.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 24, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

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