WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 06: Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park on September 6, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
D.C. GM Mike Rizzo appeared on the MLB Network Radio show Power Alley with Kevin Kennedy and Jim Duquette on Wednesday afternoon to discuss Stephen Strasburg's return to the majors. In the interview, the Nats' general manager told the hosts that the Nationals were excited about what they saw in Strasburg's first major league start in over a year, and happy with the fact that the right-hander felt good the day after his outing. "His stuff is his stuff, it's outstanding," Rizzo said, "He's got electric stuff with command, which separates him from a lot of people, but the only thing you worry about is how does he react the day after and he feels good today." After a quick talk about the previous evening's game, the discussion turned to some of the mechanical changes the Nats' '09 no.1 overall pick made while he rehabbed from Tommy John...
Mike Rizzo: "There hasn't been a lot of technical or mechanical stuff that we've talked about. We've tweaked the delivery a little bit, if you will, you may notice it's much smoother, it's quieter. The glove hand doesn't come nearly as high over his head as it once did, and I think that gets him a little bit more downhill, allows his sinker to work a little bit, but that's really the only tweak that we've mentioned to him. This guy, he's got a good pitching IQ and he knows what he's trying to do out there. He had Jordan Zimmermann going before him and really pitching much more effectively and efficiently this year had a lot to do with the way Stephen attacked things during his rehab."
The plan going forward this year for Strasburg, according to the Nats' GM, is, "... for him to log some innings to get his arm stretched out and really set a foundation for next year. We'd like him to get 50.0 or so innings under his belt this year. That's minor league innings, major league innings, we take into account some simulated games that he pitched earlier in his rehab in those innings. So, we're looking for him to get a foundation for 50.0 innings in that will allow him to pitch a little deeper into 2012 and be effective for us that way."
The former major leaguer and major league skipper, Kevin Kennedy, wanted to know what would happen if the Nationals were in contention next year when Strasburg reached his pitch and innings limit. "If we're lucky enough and improved enough to be playing meaningful games in September," Rizzo said, "and his pitch limits are up, just like Jordan Zimmermann this year, he will be done. We'll sit with our plan and we'll stick to it. If I'm the general manager here at that time, we'll certainly put the pitch and innings limit on him and we'll probably have our internal discussions and arguments, but at the end of the day just like Jordan Zimmermann this year, we're going to stay true to the plan and we'll have to find ways to replace him in our rotation."
Even without injury, the Nationals' General Manager explained, with young pitchers, "We kind of go by the old rule of thumb of 20% increases," in work load year to year early in their careers. "We've got prospects like A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray that are young 18-year-old pitchers in the minor leagues. We're obviously much more cognizant of pitch counts and innings limits with them as we are with some of our older prospects like a Brad Peacock, who, those guys have proved at the age of 22 and 23 that they can be stretched out and they can go a little bit farther. With the help of [pitching coordinator] Spin Williams, [Pitching Coach] Steve McCatty and myself put together a program this year where we did allow our older prospects go a little deeper into games and to throw more innings this season, but we still are very, very careful with the young guys, specifically guys coming out of high school, and that haven't been on a five-day rotation or the everyday-ness of the professional game."
Brad Peacock, 23, who was forced to start his major league career against the Dodgers' Matt Kemp on Tuesday night, is seen as, "a starting rotation guy for us," Rizzo said, but, "... we're bringing him out of the bullpen here in September just because he has done it before in the Arizona Fall League and has been able to experience pitching out of the bullpen." Peacock will "piggy-back" on Strasburg's starts since Strasburg will be on the pitch and innings limits. "But we're really happy about his development and improvement this year," Rizzo continued, "and if his next step is as drastic and as far as his previous step has been going to this stage, we think we've got ourselves a mid-rotation guy, a power starter that will fit in nicely behind Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and [John] Lannan."
Danny Espinosa, whose second half struggles have ended early season talk of ROY consideration, "... has a chance to be a five-tool player," Rizzo told the MLB Network Radio hosts. "With more contact we feel he's going to be a five-tool player. He's got that dangerous package of power and speed and he plays terrific defensively. He's got a plus plus arm and he's a guy that in a rookie season has really performed well for us. He's a guy that we think is an impact kind of middle of the lineup type of hitter for us that's going to drive in some runs and hit for some power."
As for his late-season struggles, Rizzo said that Espinosa, "... is at a point now in September, never played this many games and had this many at bats in a season, so the league's made an adjustment to him, he needs to make an adjustment to the league and part of his problem is he's a young player with power and he's got probably just enough power to get himself in trouble at times."
Asked about the fact that Jayson Werth's seen time in center recently after the Nats failed to acquire a center fielder at the trade deadline, the Nats' GM said, "... in a perfect world we'd get a prototypical center field/leadoff hitter and put Jayson in a more comfortable position of right field, but as you know and as we've found out, they're few and far between, those type of players, so we know that we need another bat in the lineup. I always thought that Jayson could play center field, he plays a fine center field and it was always an option for us, so it makes the search for another player, another bat, another outfielder, opens up a few more categories when you can have Jayson that could play center field for us if you found a corner bat, but we're still in the market for that prototypical plus defensive guy that can hit at the top of the order and [is an] on base percentage, base stealing type of guy."
As for the first year of Werth's 7-year/$126 million dollar contract in D.C., Rizzo said, "I think if you ask Jayson, he would certainly tell you that he hasn't had anywhere near the year that he wants to have, that he expected to have. But, he's coming in to a new situation here, kind of a new place on a ballclub, kind of went from a guy who fit comfortably in the middle of the lineup to a focal point of each and every advance scouting report and that type of thing, but since the All-Star break he's played extremely well for us. I think he's got 18 HR's and 50-something RBI's but he's played terrific defensively, he's been a terrific base runner for us, he does all the little things that you expect a championship caliber player to do. And he's been everything I thought he would be in the clubhouse, on the team flights, in the community and has really been the most up front and vocal leader on the ballclub."
"His attitude, and the way he handled the adversity," Rizzo concluded, "and believe me there was plenty of adversity the first couple of months of the season, the way he handled it professionally and really kept battling through it and worked through it and worked hard with Rick Eckstein, our hitting coach, and worked extremely hard when Davey Johnson took over as the manager with his stroke, he really exemplified a guy who just sticks to it, get through it and be a professional no matter what your batting average says, you know, handled the media, don't avoid the media and he never one time shirked an interview when he was going bad and I think he really showed the younger players how to be a big league player."
There have been reports since then that Bryce Harper, who suffered a hamstring injury, wouldn't return for the Double-A playoffs, but the Nationals' General Manager ended the interview on Wednesday by saying that the 18-year-old outfielder, "... is not going to play in the playoffs because of the hamstring, but he's slated to go to the Arizona Fall League. Last year he was a 'taxi squad' player where he played two days a week, this year he's a full-time player where he's going to play every day in the outfield."