The Atlanta Braves thought they had a shot at the Wild Card in August of 2006 when they traded injured right-handed pitching prospect Luis Atilano to the Washington Nationals in exchange for bench bat Daryle Ward. Atilano was drafted 35th overall in 2003 by Atlanta with a compensatory 1st Round (sandwich) pick they received from the New York Mets who'd signed Tom Glavine as a free agent the previous December. Roy Clark, now an Asst GM in DC under general manager Mike Rizzo, was the Braves' scouting director at the time, and he told Baseball America writer Bill Balew, as quoted in a BA article entitled, "Braves Stay the Course", that Atlanta liked, "...[Atilano's] mound presence and competitiveness, traits that led the Major League Scouting Bureau to grade him higher than any other player (that) year in Puerto Rico."
Atilano made 66 starts over 4 seasons in the Braves' system before he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery just over a week prior to the trade to Washington. Then DC GM Jim Bowden told MLB.com's Bill Ladson in an article on the Ward/Atilano deal from September 1, 2006 entitled, "Nats deal Anderson, Ward for prospects", that even if Atilano took some time to recover from the reconstructive surgery on his elbow it was alright, since the trade was made with an eye on the future, and fit into the Nationals', "... long-term vision of building a championship [team],":
"...anytime you have chance to get (a) young starting (pitcher) that (has) a chance to be rotation (guy) for you down the road, you have to do it."
It would take Atilano two years in the Nats' system, two starts in Syracuse this season and an unfortunate injury to free agent Nats' starter Jason Marquis before the right-hander got the call to make his MLB debut with the Nats on April 23rd in DC with a 6.0 inning outing against LA, but Nats' manager Jim Riggleman told the Nationals beat writers, in a post game press conference after Atilano's debut, that the Nats had given the 25-year-old pitcher a long look this past Spring:
"Jim Riggleman: "[Atilano] was very composed in Spring Training. He's been in major league camp before, so that wasn't new to him, but we kept him right up to the last exhibition game and he was with us trying to make the club and he never showed any nervousness as he was trying to make the club, and so I think that whole experience helped him."
Riggleman says at the time the Nationals were looking at him as a potential reliever, but when he came back as a starter against the Dodgers, the Nats' skipper was just, "...happy to see him throwing quality strikes. The ball was sinking decent, and [he] was getting his breaking ball over...it was very impressive." It was a cut-fastball and an "above average" change along with his "mound presence" that Roy Clark pointed to in the Baseball America article that was published just after the '03 Draft, and according to The Hardball Times' writer Harry Pavlidis, who broke Atilano's debut down in an article entitled, "Luis Atilano’s paths", Mr. Pavlidis wrote that Atilano still had, "...the change-up, [and] the sinking (tailing, not cutting) fastball [which] sits closer to 89-90," but, Mr. Pavlidis wrote:
"Although the sink and tail on the fastball and change-up are noteworthy, the big take-away is the spread of sliders You can see a 10 mph spread and a good foot of difference in spin deflection. You can almost see three breaking balls. Cutter, slider, curve? Slider, slurve, curve? Cuslidurve? Work in progress?"
Mr. Pavlidis came away from his examination of Atilano impressed, as did the Nats' skipper, and after that first start, which also featured contributions from Nationals' reliever Tyler Clippard, the former DC GM Jim Bowden tried one last time to remind the nation's capital's fans of the role he played in bringing Atilano aboard back in 2006:
"@JimBowdenXMFOX: "So proud of Luis Atilano on his ML debut! like Albaladejo for Clippard, the Ward for Atilano deal was for the future...happy for him and NATS!"
Everyone thank, Mr. Bowden. Thanks, Jim. (ed. note - "Yeah, this is why Bowden banned me from following him on Twitter.") Atilano starts against his former team and Braves' right-hander Tommy Hanson tonight in Nationals Park.