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Luis Atilano makes it to Washington

Luis Atilano has had a long career for a 24-year-old. The Braves drafted him with a first-round compensatory pick (for losing Tom Glavine) in 2003. In 2006, the Braves traded Atilano to the Nationals for Daryle Ward. The next year, he underwent Tommy John surgery.

Tonight, Atilano will reach the major leagues for the first time. Replacing Jason Marquis, Atilano will make his big league debut against the Dodgers and Charlie Haeger, a knuckleballer.

The key to Atilano's rise came last year. He began 2008 with Class AA Harrisburg, putting up so-so performances and stats. "He's made incredible strides since that time," Nationals director of player development Doug Harris said. Pitching coordinator Spin Williams and Harrisburg pitching coach Randy Tomlin changed his breaking ball, turning it from a big, looping pitch into a more biting one.

"We just tried to tighten it up and make it more a shorter pitcher, more a slider than a curve," Williams said. "It's probably still what you'd call a short curve, but it's tighter."

Before, Atilano's curve was "marginal," Harris said. Now, he can use it as an effective complement. The tutelage from Williams and Tomlin helped. More importantly, Atilano had reached a stage where he could implement it.

"He was healthy enough to be able to apply what he's learned," Harris said. "It's like that with guys coming off injuries. He got himself healthy. And when you're 24, you start to mature. He has a comfort level that I haven't seen from him in the past."

Atilano has always been a fastball-changeup pitcher, his fastball darting with a natural sink. "Strike thrower," Williams said. "Attacks the hitter. He works fast, keeps the ball down, keeps a good game pace."

Harris watched Atilano's last start with Class AAA Syracuse, a win over Lehigh Valley. Atilano allowed eight hits and a walk, confronting base runners in every inning. But he surrendered only one run. "He was very poised," Harris said. "In the past there would have been a little more panic. He's was just very calm. I'm excited to see what can he do tonight."

By Adam Kilgore  |  April 23, 2010; 12:49 PM ET
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Next: Today's lineup


I saw both JZimm's and Stammen's debuts last year. I'm going tonight and, hopefully, Atilano's will be as successful.

Posted by: slewis1 | April 23, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

"Replacing Jason Marquis, Atilano will make his big league debut against the Dodgers and Charlie Haeger, a knuckleballer."

Wasn't Riggleman just saying three weeks ago when they faced the Red Sox and Wakefield that they wouldn't be seeing any knuckleballers at all this year? How did this happen?

Talk about a tough challenge for the hitters, to go from facing Ubaldo to seeing knucklers. Dunn won't be breaking out of his slump tonight, that's for sure. Best hope for him is that he walks four times.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 23, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

nunof1 you read my mind. After watching Dunn helplessly flail at Ubaldo's breaking stuff I'm guessing that tonight's impending matchup is already giving him a headache.

Posted by: autobits | April 23, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

I still think Riggs should give Dunn a day off. Not because he's tired, but because he's the only position player who hasn't had a day off (and he's slumping).

Posted by: slewis1 | April 23, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

I think this will be a long hard night.

Posted by: Tom8 | April 23, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

I'm optimistic. If a knuckleballer isn't "on," he can be crushed. The key thing is patience. Force him to throw strikes, don't try to overswing and kill the ball.

Anyway it's always exciting to see a ML debut. How often do you get to see someone fulfill a lifelong dream (and hope it doesnt turn into a nightmare)?

Should be a nice evening. I will be there and am looking forward to it.

Posted by: Meridian1 | April 23, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Good luck tonight, kid. Seize the moment. There are jobs here for the taking.

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | April 23, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Whoa, hold on doom and gloomers. Knuckler or not, Haegler got ROCKED in his last start, giving up 5 earned runs (7 total) in 3 innings (96 pitches!) And that was against the SF Giants. Which, you know, aren't a very good team offensively. There is no reason at all for pessimism about facing this guy.

Posted by: Section220 | April 23, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Spin Williams should be our pitching coach, but I'm glad he is helping out the Baby Nats.

Playing devil's advocate here:

Since, Jesus and the three wise men (Wang Detwiller, and Marquis) are slated for June; What happens if Lannan, Stammen, Atilano, Olsen, and Livo are pitching well with lowish ERA's and the club is above .500?

Posted by: hansenjo | April 23, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

I was wondering, watching yesterday's game, if the Rockies make it a point not to watch Jimenez pitch, when they're facing Livan. That's got to mess up your timing all by itself.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | April 23, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Second year in a row the Nationals acquire a veteran starting pitcher and he is on the shelf before the first month of the season is over.

Feels like Scott Olsen all over again.

Posted by: leopard09 | April 23, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

All together now: We should have such problems.
But Strasburg is coming up, and so is Wang if he's healthy, as it seems he will be. Lannan isn't going anywhere if he's healthy and pitching well, and neither is Stammen. That means Livan is, again, sadly, LOOGY-bait. Maybe they could get a rental right fielder (Jose Guillen? Naaaah.) for a healthy Olsen+AA. Somebody like Atilano could become the long guy, if it came to that.

Since Jesus and the three wise men (Wang Detwiler, and Marquis) are slated for June, what happens if Lannan, Stammen, Atilano, Olsen, and Livo are pitching well with lowish ERAs and the club is above .500?

Posted by: hansenjo | April 23, 2010 1:35 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | April 23, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

But I don't think you'll see Marquis back in June, if he has stuff in his elbow.
And I still don't think Olsen will hold up.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | April 23, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

I actually think we'll do fine against Haeger as a team, I'm just not sure Dunn will. He'll pull out of it eventually, but a knuckleballer is a probably not good matchup for him at the moment. I'll bet he gets at least 2BB's tonight though. At least he still contributes when he's slumping.

I've noticed pitchers still pitch around him a lot. No one wants to be the first guy he breaks out against.

Posted by: autobits | April 23, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Dunn's not the only big gun stinking it up; Jason Bay and Carlos Lee come to mind immediately.

Posted by: p-man | April 23, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Not to mention the slugger formerly known as Big Papi.

Posted by: nunof1 | April 23, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

It's nice to be able to discuss this while in the sky coming home. I am very excited for Atilano, having paid attention since the Ward trade. We actually did OK trading bench players (Martis, Jhonny Nunez) for a few years, but then Bowden decided it was better resign Dmitri Young and Ronnie Belliard.


Posted by: kevincostello | April 23, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse


I remember writing a story about the Ward trade (I'm just a lowly blogger) and I recall that the reason we were able to get a former first-round pick for a pinch-hitter in his 30's was because he had already had his surgery and was rehabbing at the time.

Not a big deal but thought I should mention it fyi.

Posted by: rushfari | April 23, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse

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