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Posted at 7:30 AM ET, 02/15/2011

As pitchers and catchers report, five pitchers to watch

By Adam Kilgore
Morning brushback

As you read this Tuesday morning, Nationals pitchers and catchers will be officially reporting at Space Coast Stadium. This spring will tell us more about some of those pitchers than others, and it's those question marks - the flamethrowers, the fliers, the players at a crossroads of some sort - that make this time of year so intriguing.

The five pitchers here may or may not make an impact on the Nationals this season, but they should be some of the most interesting to watch as spring rolls along.

Elvin Ramirez: The Nationals chose Ramirez, formerly a New York Mets farmhand, in the Rule 5 draft this winter. The right-handed reliever has only appeared in three games above Class A. But to keep him, the Nationals will either have to carry Ramirez on their 25-man roster all season or work out a trade with the Mets. Ramirez, even with his lack of experience, has sleeper status to make the club. He throws in the high-90s and struck out 8.1 batters per nine last year in the minors. His bugaboo is control, but the Nationals were encouraged by his performance in the Dominican winter league, when he walked five batters in 24 1/3 innings.

maya.jpgYunesky Maya: He disappointed in his brief major league stint last season, going 0-3 with a 5.88 ERA in five starts. But his struggles were understandable given his circumstances - he had only recently come to America after defecting from Cuba more than a year earlier and taking residence in the Dominican Republic. Maya, by all accounts, pitched great in the Dominican winter league. It's worth wondering if the momentum from his winter and increased comfort with his surroundings combine to make Maya a reliable, end-of-the-rotation starter.

Henry Rodriguez: The Nationals shipped Josh Willingham, their starting left fielder who was owed an affordable 2011 salary, to the Oakland A's for a minor league outfielder (Corey Brown) and this rocket-armed reliever. At 24, Rodriguez has little major league experience. Like Ramirez, he needs to harness his control and command. But last year, he struck out 33 batters in 27 2/3 major league innings, and one of his fastballs zipped at 103 miles per hour. If he improves his control, he could become a candidate to close. If not, the Willingham trade could start looking a tad one-sided.

Garrett Mock: He's been utterly overlooked since last April, when he started the fourth game of the Nationals' season, on a chilly night in New York. After the start, the Nationals discovered he needed surgery to repair a disc in the back of his neck. As quickly as Mock asserted himself with a relatively strong spring training, he fell off the map. Mock, despite being a member of the Nats' opening day rotation last year, is often left out of the discussion for the Nationals' fifth starter spot. This spring, he'll try to change that. On Monday, he was already hurling sharp breaking balls and snapping the catcher's mitt with his fastball.

Ross Detwiler: Last year, after he under hip surgery at the start of spring training, Detwiler never really had a chance. He was at least partly to blame for not speaking up about his balky hip, but even once he recovered, he never quite felt comfortable on the mound. After an offseason spent working on a delivery that puts less stress on his hip, Detwiler is a candidate to make the club. He could emerge as a swingman or a long reliever. As the sixth pick of the 2007 draft, he has the pedigree for much more if he can tap into his potential.

Other key questions: Will Jordan Zimmermann make a leap forward in his first full season following Tommy John surgery? Will John Lannan continue his hot streak from the end of 2010? Will Drew Storen seize the closer role? Has Tyler Clippard managed to pick up some wins over the winer? Did Livan Hernandez win any racquetball trophies this offseason?

And one more: Who are you most curious about?

FROM THE POST

Jesus Flores is finally healthy after a hellish 2010.

The Great Dave Sheinin is in the best shape of his life and makes his spring debut with a piece from Clearwater on Cliff Lee and the Phillies' aces.

He's also got story lines from around the majors.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

Nyjer Morgan is putting 2010 behind him, Bill Ladson writes.

Mark Zuckerman offers up a spring training preview.

Ben Goessling takes on the importance of players arriving early.

By Adam Kilgore  | February 15, 2011; 7:30 AM ET
Categories:  Morning brushback  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: With a fresh outlook, Nyjer Morgan feels ready for 2011
Next: Drew Storen's excellent uniform adventure

Comments

I am most interested in seeing if Jordan Zimmerman can become a top end of the rotation starter. I am also very intrigued with the possibility of Rodriguez and/or Rameriz making the team. Despite the lack of a proven closer, the Nats' bullpen has the chance to be very deep and very good.

Posted by: VaNat | February 15, 2011 7:45 AM | Report abuse

Adam: Thanks, really starting to feel like baseball season.
Are the Nats still one over on the 40 man roster?

Posted by: Sunderland | February 15, 2011 7:51 AM | Report abuse

Maya is the one I'll be watching for in Spring Training. Does he qualify as a rookie this season (assuming he makes the team)?

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | February 15, 2011 8:14 AM | Report abuse

I had put Garrett Mock in the afterthought category. Perhaps I was a bit hasty. I'll be watching his progress thru the spring to see if he jumps out of the pack and solidifies a spot in the rotation.

Posted by: cokedispatch | February 15, 2011 8:28 AM | Report abuse

And other questions:

Will Gorzelany make the rotation and if not, does that put Doug Slatten's roster position at risk?

Will minor league pitchers like Tom Milone and Brad Peacock be given challenging assignments if earned or slotted at AA or below?

And, will Adam ever learn to proof his stories before posting them (really just try reading them aloud - you'll find the missing words ... it's like finding Waldo).

Posted by: whatsaNATaU | February 15, 2011 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Most curious about the impressions that Cole and Solis will make. They're arguably at the top of the pitching prospect pile, and if they don't make an impression, then what does that say about the pipeline.

Posted by: joemktg1 | February 15, 2011 8:48 AM | Report abuse

What a great way to start my computer reading. I might have to come here first instead of the bird cage. I am never that upset with poor proofing as long as I can follow the storyline. This kind of story has me even more excited about our potential. That is what makes spring training so great, just to hope that these guys can go from having one of the most ineffective starting staffs to something a little above average.

Go Nats!!

Posted by: sjm3091 | February 15, 2011 8:58 AM | Report abuse

Great post Adam, exactly the kind of stuff that has me thinking about 2011! I am very interested to see if Mock can get his head in the game and harness his physical skills, he has one of the best breaking balls I have ever seen when he is on. I am looking for ward to more reporting on the pitching battles this Spring!

Posted by: markfd | February 15, 2011 9:12 AM | Report abuse

I don't how good our bullpen will be, but it should be one of the hardest throwing pens in MLB. I hope that there is a regression to the mean with Marquis and 10-12 wins from Gorzelanny and Lannan each. If Zimmermann does what we hope, I think that we can be an 81-81 club.

Posted by: upperdeck4 | February 15, 2011 9:22 AM | Report abuse

"The Great Dave Sheinin is in the best shape of his life and makes his spring debut with a piece from Clearwater on Cliff Lee and the Phillies' aces."

Yeah, Sheinin is in midseason front-runner form all right. Made the seamless transition from the Yankees to the Phillies. He's a real pro, all right.

But didn't he write basically this same story the day Cliff Lee was signed? Is there anything new in today's story that wasn't there before? No, not really. Sheinin is supposed to be the MLB beat writer, isn't he? There are 29 other teams reporting to spring training right now. Are there no stories to uncover in any of those camps?

Let me predict Sheinin's next story. The Red Sox signed Adrian Gonzales and Carl Crawford. I bet nobody knows that this is going to make them a beast of a team this year. But never fear, Sheinin will phone it in for us!

Posted by: FeelWood | February 15, 2011 9:27 AM | Report abuse

What will be the impact of Jayson Werth on the clubhouse? Is he going to step up to being a leader for this team?

Posted by: rvrtis | February 15, 2011 9:53 AM | Report abuse

The pitcher that most intrigues me this season is Colin Balester. His ERA plummetted in 2010, to under 2.40, with a switch to the bullpen. However, he only pitched 20+ innings. Until The Nats stockpiled a multitude of possible starters this offseason, I figured him as a potential 5th starter in 2011. Instead, I now look forward to seeing what he'll produce with 50+ innings out of the 'pen. He might even have the tools to be an effective Closer. We'll find out soon.... YOU GO, COLIN!

Posted by: DCtoDE | February 15, 2011 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Kilgore writes...Has Tyler Clippard managed to pick up some wins over the winer?

---------------------
What does that even mean?

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | February 15, 2011 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Does Clippar own a vineyard? Is that what a "winer" is or someone who whines?

Kilgore, huh? Do you have Spell Check?

Posted by: PensRule | February 15, 2011 10:04 AM | Report abuse

I had put Garrett Mock in the afterthought category. Perhaps I was a bit hasty. I'll be watching his progress thru the spring to see if he jumps out of the pack and solidifies a spot in the rotation.

Posted by: cokedispatch
-------------------------

Me too. This guy has had so many chances and again will look great in AAA. He is one of many pitchers who just can't make that leap from AAA to MLB and just don't see that changing once again but definitely one to watch as he is a Rizzo guy.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | February 15, 2011 10:06 AM | Report abuse

I am just excited baseball is in the air. Let's go Nats!

Posted by: cr8oncsu | February 15, 2011 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Two points:

1. SPRING TRAINING!!!!!!! Holy jeebus, I am excited for the season and THANK YOU Adam for already filling the NJ with so much content!

2. Thank you Mike Rizzo. That we are even having this discussion about starter/reliever spots is b/c the Rizzo has so assiduously collected young, talented arms. Not EVERY ONE will make the team, but it's nice to have extra pieces to send to the farm system and/or dangle as trade bait. I believe this is what actual major league franchises do ...

Posted by: terrapin31590us | February 15, 2011 10:45 AM | Report abuse

The bullpen setup and closer roles need to be defined as soon as possible,it's McCatty's job to get this staff on the right track i'll say this here and now i'm not a big fan of McCatty's that being said he has some arm's to work with and the potential is there for this staff to turn it around.

Posted by: dargregmag | February 15, 2011 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Deitweiler is the pitcher I'm most interested in. I am convinced he is going to be a good major league pitcher; assuming he is healthy, of course.
Enjoyable stuff, Adam.

Posted by: jcampbell1 | February 15, 2011 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Holy mackerel, this is the first day of spring training, people. Some of you need to find some good cheer. The issue of typos in a blog post is a dead horse. No, they're not edited and the articles in the paper aren't edited as well as they used to be either. Like it or not, it ain't gonna change. More posts with less proofing works for me.

If the poster above was busting Adam on misspelling winter, OK. If there was a real question about the meaning, AK alluded to Clippard vulturing so many wins from the starters last year, in the first half especially.

I am very curious about the closer situation. Will Storen take ownership? If not, will it be closer by committe?

I'm optimistic that with such a stable of pitchers with some degree of promise, that a few will take the next step. Of course, the pessimist in me knows this is possible because they need to step up to be good MLB starters. Everybody has question marks. Overall, much better inventory than past years.

Posted by: utec | February 15, 2011 12:30 PM | Report abuse

I want to see Jordan Zimmermann make the leap forward. He appears to be the one guy on the staff who could be an above average starter, maybe even really good. I want that progress to start this year.

Posted by: baltova1 | February 15, 2011 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Jordan Zimmermann. Easily the most intriguing story.

Posted by: shanks1 | February 15, 2011 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Mock will be 29 and has never been able to complete a full season as a starter in the majors.

I really think he is slated to be a guy that spends his career as a AAA pitcher with some appearances in the majors when injuries hit or as a fall callup.

I don't see him beating out Zimmermann, Lannan, Marquis or Hernandez. Detwiler and Maya seem to be players the organization wants to evaluate in 2011 to see what they have for the future.

Mock missed his chance over the past 3-4 years when this staff was pretty poor and there were chances aplenty.

Washington does not have an above average rotation yet, but it does have legitimate major leaguers which is something you couldn't say in years past.

Posted by: RoyHobbs4 | February 15, 2011 1:04 PM | Report abuse

I'm probably most curious about how the lineup will take shape. My general feeling on pitching is that we have a good-to-great bullpen and an 8-pack of #3-#5 starters so doesn't really matter to me who it is. But the lineup....

Does NM come back with some focus and actually EARN the leadoff spot? Will Desi bat/get on base enough to hit #2? Will there be 4 righties in a row? Is it possible Zimm is our best candidate for cleanup? Initial thoughts are that a basic lineup of Morgan-Desmond-Zimm-Werth-Laroche-Morse/Berni-Pudge-Espinosa will be the most likely but I think there is a lot of room for moving the parts around.

Posted by: ajtrue78 | February 16, 2011 12:38 AM | Report abuse

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