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It's a long way back to the majors for Matt Chico

Since the last time left-hander Matt Chico pitched in the major leagues for the Washington Nationals -- May 21, 2008 -- the following things have happened:

*Chico underwent ligament-replacement surgery in his throwing elbow in July 2008.

*He turned 25, then 26, and is now closing in on 27 in another month.

*He and his wife, Stephanie, have welcomed two children into the world.

*The Nationals drafted Stephen Strasburg, signed Chien-Ming Wang and exhumed the body of Livan Hernandez.

*Garrett Mock, Collin Balester, Ross Detwiler, Craig Stammen, Shairon Martis, Jordan Zimmermann and Luis Atilano all made their major league debuts.

All 10 of those pitchers now rank higher than Chico on the organization's pitching depth chart -- either in actual terms or, in the cases of the rehabbing Wang and Zimmermann, theoretical ones -- which explains, perhaps better than anything else, why Chico finds himself toiling away for the Harrisburg Senators of the Class AA Eastern League. It's a level from which Chico thought he had graduated at the end of 2009, when he returned from elbow surgery to make 12 starts for the Senators, if not 2006, when he went 9-2 at the Class AA level, on his way to earning a promotion to the majors with the Nationals in 2007, for whom he went 7-9 with a 4.63 ERA as a rookie.

Asked Sunday if he is frustrated to be stuck in Class AA a month into his eighth professional season, Chico said, "Yeah, but at the same time I try to use it to my advantage. I've got to remember I'm still out here playing baseball. Being frustrated kind of fuels me to prove I can pitch at a higher level, but at the same time I still get to come out here and pitch every five days."

With the Senators, Chico is 1-2 with a 3.20 ERA so far, with 14 strikeouts and seven walks in 19 2/3 innings. He has had good outings and bad ones. He has been victimized by circumstance at times -- plays not being made, weak hits finding holes -- and he has gotten lucky at other times. He has been working on getting more ground balls, and the results have been promising. Though he felt he should have been assigned to Class AAA Syracuse to start the season, he is grateful for the front-row seat he has had for the professional debut of Strasburg, for whom Chico has served as a mentor of sorts.

He is also throwing his fastball consistently in the 88 mph range, a huge upgrade over the 81s and 82s he was posting in 2008, before his elbow ligament snapped.

"I feel more comfortable out there than any time in last three years or so," he said. "Just much more confident in myself -- knowing I'm able to throw a good fastball. My pitches are a little sharper. I've been able to get the two-seamer working. I don't want to say I'm having more fun, because I've always had fun. But I'm enjoying being able to throw all my pitches the way I'm used to. ... The only thing holding me back, I think, is just getting more innings."

Still, the harsh reality of Chico's situation -- he's a victim, of sorts, of the organizational pitching depth the Nationals have built over the past two years -- would be daunting, if he allowed himself to consider it.

"I try not to think about it," he said. "All those guys you mentioned are quality arms. It's a good situation for the team to be in. And all I can do is go out and try to prove that I am capable of pitching at the next level, or even higher."

By Dave Sheinin  |  May 3, 2010; 3:11 PM ET
Categories:  Matt Chico  
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Comments

It can't be too long before Chico gets back up to Syracuse, especially with the atrocious pitching of Balester and Martis so far this season. I expect one, if not both, of those guys to either get sent down to Harrisburg to work on their stuff, or maybe even both being relegated to the bullpen. Who knows, maybe those two can be the next Clippard?

Posted by: erocks33 | May 3, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Anyone know what's going on with Chien-Ming Wang?

Posted by: gavila5 | May 3, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Chico's certainly earned the right to possibly get some consideration at Syracuse ahead of Balester and Martis, but Strasburg and Thompson have both got to be ahead of him on the callup list at this point. Maybe once Strasburg gets to DC will have a better sense of where he fits in. He's a good guy and you want him to do well. On the other hand, if you're counting on guys like him being legit 4/5 starter material you're not that strong of an organization. Thankfully we're not really counting on him at this point.

Posted by: souldrummer | May 3, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

@erocks33,

I think Arneson and Kown would be ahead of Balester and Martis for that role. Last year Arneson was a starter in Harrisburg. This year they converted him into the 'Miguel Batista role' and he has thrived and excelled. Andrew Kown also has some gaudy stats in Syracuse.

As far as Chien-Ming Wang, the guy had 2 really horrible years in a row. Not just one, before his surgery. Jason Marquis like years.

He has to considered at about the same level as Chico at this point with all of those other pitchers ahead of him. Most especially Jordan Zimmermann.

Posted by: periculum | May 3, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

It can't be too long before Chico gets back up to Syracuse, especially with the atrocious pitching of Balester and Martis so far this season. I expect one, if not both, of those guys to either get sent down to Harrisburg to work on their stuff, or maybe even both being relegated to the bullpen. Who knows, maybe those two can be the next Clippard?

Posted by: erocks33 | May 3, 2010 3:30 PM
________________________________________

With the way Balestar has been pitching, I would think that he may find himself being relased. I just don't think he has what it takes.

Posted by: TimDz | May 3, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Stop with all these hit-to-contact pitchers. They will effectively rot our rotation. The strike zone doesn't exist for these guys anymore, and that's the truth.

I'd trade all these guys (Stammen, Lannan, Chico, etc.) now while there's still some trade value. If the NL strike zone doesn't find a bottom, all of these guys are essentially batting practice.

Posted by: CapitolWill | May 3, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

peric-

there is no was Wang is considered at the same level as Chico. When he is healthy he will get every opportunity to pitch so that the organization can see if he has regained his form. Chico seems like he is more of an afterthought at this point

Posted by: nami322 | May 3, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

oops should say there is not way not was

Posted by: nami322 | May 3, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

The only potential future starters they have that throw in the mid-90's and up are Strasburg, Juan Jaime, Nathan Karns, and Jordan Zimmermann.

Three of the four are out due to illness/injury/surgery. That's the luck of the draw I suppose.

Posted by: periculum | May 3, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

nami32,

Wang's injury was pretty serious. One he kept hidden for 2 years. That's 2 years to make things worst. The educated Fan should be smart enough to have very, very LOW expectations when it comes to Wang. If anything the reports on Zimmermann are far more encouraging. His coaches and trainers have HAD TO slow him down. You do not hear that about Wang. At this point Chico is much, much further along than Wang.

Posted by: periculum | May 3, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

We are getting way ahead of ourselves to be summarily dismissing Lannan, Chico, and Stammen. It sounds like more fantasy league GMing to do so.

Posted by: lowcountry | May 3, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Ahh, whatever happened to the days when Don Sutton was here to assure us that guys like Chico, but especially Balester and Martis, certainly had what it takes to be successful in the big leagues...I wish them all the best, but not holding my breath expecting to see any of them in a Nats uni again...

Posted by: evanescent_panoply | May 3, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

It is not important that they appear in the big leauges in a Nats uniform. Any MLB uniform will do - provides we get adequate compensation. Thus are franchises built.

Posted by: lowcountry | May 3, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

"The Nationals drafted Stephen Strasburg, signed Chien-Ming Wang and exhumed the body of Livan Hernandez."

I thought it was funny to see Needham talking about the "reanimated corpse of Livan Hernandez," seeing as how his own blog was dead as a parrot for quite some time--a good deal longer, IIRC, than Livo was out of the majors. And Livan seems to be having a better 2010 than he is, so far, too.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 3, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

It is a tough situation for Matt, he is coming back from injury at the wrong time, when he left due to injury we were pitching poor and now we are pitching Rich, hopefully Matt will continue to perform in the minors and either get called up or get traded for another piece of the long-term puzzle.

Posted by: markfd | May 3, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

And Matt doesn't seem to be listed in Cot's, either--HEY DAVE, how much are they paying the kid these days?

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 3, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Lannan, Capps, Chico. With all this talk of pitchers--and on an off-day, no less--I'm stunned and dismayed that there hasn't been a peep about Cliff Lee potentially becoming a Nat, given his agent's comments over the weekend. Since he'll probably be traded in 2010, maybe Rizzo can work some magic. Now that would really shake things up in the NL East. Hopefully, 2010 will be about making DC an attractive destination for the Cliff Lees of the league.

Posted by: thelonghaul | May 3, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Cliff Lee?

"The way I look at it, there will be in excess of 15-plus clubs seeking a top-end of the rotation type of guy that will have the resources [to make a deal happen]," Braunecker said.

Think Yankees or BoSox. Although he does have the coveted left handed pitching arm that Rizzo has long sought. It just seems highly unlikely with all the competition.

But you never know. He would be the perfect addition to Strasburg and Zimmermann. Making the competition for the 4 & 5 spots all the more fierce. Hopefully finally curtailing the club's need for retreads like Batista and Vilone. But Livan ... Livan is himself a rare commodity if he continues as he has so far.

So, then you would have one starters spot up for grabs. Finally, guys who actually can pitch out of ST!

Posted by: periculum | May 3, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

peri-

the educated fan should also be smart enough to realize that while the injury was serious, he was signed with the hope that he could regain his form and will be given every opportunity to do so by the organization. not to mention the fact that he only actually had 1 bad season not the two horrible seasons you were talking about before. unless 8 - 2 with a 4.07 ERA in 15 starts is a horrible season to you.

Posted by: nami322 | May 3, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

Actually, somebody did mention Cliff Lee the other day here, but since you brought it up--trade for Cliff Lee?
1) Why? He's going to be a free agent in 2011 regardless.
2) Who would you give up for him? Cuz they're gonna want Strasburg.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 3, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

And it is scary and sobering, but understandable, that we refer to "the educated fan" in here in the singular.

I wonder who it is?

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 3, 2010 7:39 PM | Report abuse

"the educated fan" "I wonder who it is?"

3rd person: could be the Holy Ghost.

Posted by: periculum | May 3, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't trade for Lee. But one can see many advantages in signing him next season. Guaranteed playoff spot next year?

Posted by: periculum | May 3, 2010 8:14 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, folks, I'm no longer dismayed (or stunned) about the lack of CLee discussion. Not advocating for it, just curious as to thoughts. However . . . Dunn's name comes up a lot in West Coast circles as someone who could fill a need with the Ms--apparently, Safeco also is a left-handed power hitter's dream (never been there myself). Not to mention DH. They're trying to look beyond Junior, now that he's about done. I would only do it if I could lock in CLee to a contract. We may be able to offer him 2 more years than others in the NL East, if we want to do that.

Posted by: thelonghaul | May 3, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

Wang's rehab plan according to Taiwanese media last week-

bullpen every other day in May;
live BP in June;
5 - 6 rehab starts in July;
return to the ML by Aug.

FWIW.

Posted by: deposetejada | May 3, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, If Mike Rizzo and staff believe CLee is that valuable? Trading for him so that you get dibs on negotiating with his agent might make sense? Hopefully, he gets comfortable with the rest of the team and their prospects for the future as well as the city.

Perhaps its already been discussed? Who knows for sure? Certainly a decent record in May and into the all star break could help convince Lee? A lot of unknowns ...

Posted by: periculum | May 3, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

"return to the ML by Aug."

At the same time as Jordan Zimmermann?

Posted by: periculum | May 3, 2010 8:56 PM | Report abuse

Nah, I know the Paraclete and she's not a baseball fan. I think it was that Randy Johnson thing.
**************
"the educated fan" "I wonder who it is?"
3rd person: could be the Holy Ghost.
Posted by: periculum | May 3, 2010 8:13 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 3, 2010 9:03 PM | Report abuse

and is there any actual evidence, besides Dibble's rants, that the strike zone is, in fact, getting called smaller this year? Because if it is, it would show up across the board, not just Lannan and the rest of the DC staff.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 3, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Just flying by the seat, here, but I imagine that if the umps are not calling strikes on pitches at the knees, that they called last year and before, then we should see walks are up across the board, pitch counts up, starters going shorter, and probably more fly balls as the pitchers compensate and the hitters take advantage.
Might see relatively fewer fastballs, too, as pitchers try to compensate with more breaking stuff, maybe?
Besides actually looking at the game tapes, how would you tell?

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | May 3, 2010 9:13 PM | Report abuse

one thing that happens each year is that the Nationals and the media overrate the pitching quality and depth in the organization.

leaving Strasburg out of the discussion for a moment, which other Nationals pitcher projects to be a front line starter in the majors?

most of these guys at best are #4 or #5 starters, and by and large the Nationals developmental pitches are 'spotters' with a 85-89 fastball and breaking pitch.

Only Jordan Zimmermann pre-injury threw a legitimate major league fastball that he could locate.

Posted by: leopard09 | May 4, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

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