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Scott Olsen will replace Garrett Mock in the Nationals rotation

The Nationals chose Garrett Mock as their final starter to begin the season because, as General Manager Mike Rizzo at the time, "We need to see if this guy is a legitimate major league starting pitcher." It took the Nationals one start to determine Mock, at the moment, is not.

The Nationals this morning optioned Mock to Class AAA Syracuse in order to make room Livan Hernandez, today's starter, on the active roster. Scott Olsen, the left-hander Mock beat only one week ago, will replace Mock in the rotation and make his first major league start this year Thursday against the Phillies.

"I've said this since the first time I ever got optioned down," Mock said. "What my reaction is doesn't matter. The bottom line is, it's encouraging for the way the team is going. They're not going to put up with what I did the first game. So they're going to get somebody else in here to do it."

On Friday, Mock allowed two runs on four hits and five walks while lasting only 3 1/3 innings. He needed a 84 pitches to retire 13 outs, the antithesis of his stated goal to become more efficient this season.

"This is a performance league," Rizzo said. "As a 27-year-old righthander, with the stuff that he features, we just need guys to perform. We're here to win games. He's got to iron out some mechanical things to throw more strikes. The bottom is line, you have to perform, and you have to throw more than 3 1/3 innings. You've got to give your ball club a chance to win."

Mock's struggles began in spring training, when the Nationals were deciding between Mock, Olsen and J.D. Martin. "Nobody," Manager Jim Riggleman said, "pitched good enough to win the job." So the Nationals chose Mock based on what he showed at the end of last season. After Friday, they realized he would not recapture that form.

"It's not a knee-jerk reaction," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "It's not one-start-and-out. It's more based on the last two or three weeks of spring training, some struggles. We just aren't seeing what we saw last September."

The Nationals believe Mock possesses as much potential as any pitcher in their system, but he has been unable to translate his big-breaking curveball and biting sinker into success. Mock has been bouncing between the majors and minors since 2008, and at 27 it's easy to wonder if he will ever stick as a regular major leaguer.

"You're waiting for the day when it all comes together through a full ballgame and a full season," Rizzo said. "He took a step backwards Friday, and that was disappointing."

Olsen, who improved as spring training wore and he recovered from last year's major shoulder surgery, will join the Nationals staff. In his first start at Syracuse, Olsen allowed four runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. In his final start of spring training, Olsen shut down the Boston Red Sox, striking out seven in five innings while hitting 91 miles per hour with his fastball.

"He's pitching on a more consistent basis," Rizzo said.

Olsen's place in the rotation is not necessarily permanent. What the Nationals lack in quality, they make up for in quantity. Every Syracuse starter has started in the majors before, and even Matt Chico, sitting in Class AA Harrisburg, started 31 games for the Nationals in 2007.

"It could be a rotating shuttle there between Syracuse and here until somebody nails that slot down," Riggleman said.

Said Rizzo: "We're going to go and try to find somebody who takes the job and grabs it, not take the job by default."

As Mock learned, the Nationals have plenty of options.

"You have to go out and win, go be a starter and go six-plus innings," Mock said. "That's what they need here. That's what I'm capable of doing. It wasn't just, 'Here's what part of your game you need to go polish up.' It's, 'Go down there and win.' That's what the team is focused on doing this year."

"I know that I have what it takes to pitch in the big leagues. As far as earning your keep, that's what we're all doing. If I don't go out and perform, I'm going to get sent down. The biggest thing is, I haven't separated myself yet."

By Adam Kilgore  |  April 11, 2010; 12:29 PM ET
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This is the right move, and Mock is saying all the right things despite enduring what must be -- no matter how well deserved -- a crushing disappointment.

Ordinarily I would say that a team's management needs to have some faith in its judgment about talent and not make decisions based on a single outing. But the quotes from Riggleman answered that question to my satisfaction, and I'm glad they're sending the message that the "teach and preach" days are behind them.

I hope that Desmond -- who I acknowledge is in a totally different situation and will be on a longer leash because he is doing the job with the bat -- also gets the message.

Posted by: Meridian1 | April 11, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

It looks to me like Desmond just needs to relax. All of the errors have come on plays where he seemed to rush things. He's made some good plays where he simply had to react (a couple of shaky throws to start double plays). I suspect he'll have a rough first half, but we'll see improvement after that.

Posted by: baltova1 | April 11, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, but Mock needed to start the season in SYR; 0-4W-L, 2:1K-W, & 4HRA over 18+IP in Viera should have told the tale. Either J.D. Martin or Olsen would have been better initial choices, but that's hindsight.

Glad the team made the early modification, rather than going 3-4 starts with Mock & giving away those games.

Posted by: BinM | April 11, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

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