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Five for the three, five for the three, we need proof before belief

A year ago, the Nationals had one starting pitcher in which the organization trusted implicitly, and several guys who figured to be capable but who nevertheless did not inspire great confidence. The clear-cut ace was, of course, Livan Hernandez. Many of the rest of the guys---such as Tomo Ohka, Zach Day, and Sunny Kim---didn't survive last summer's starter carnage. Esteban Loaiza, picked up on not much more than a hunch, was counted on to fill the fourth or fifth starter's role. John Patterson impressed during spring training but did not formally make the rotation until he proved himself in a couple of replacement starts for Tony Armas.

The institution of the Hernandez/Loaiza/Patterson "Big Three," you'll acknowledge, evolved from rather more humble origins.

This year, we have an anticipated "Big Two." In a sense, that's progress. Five guys, both Ken Wright of the Times and Bill Ladson of report, will duke it out for the final three spots.

Armas and Jon Rauch are the lone Richard Marxian repeat offenders among the suspects. As for the others, I'm sure Jim Bowden would disagree with this, but Ohka and Day were probably better bets entering last season, all things equal, than Brian Lawrence and Ramon Ortiz are this season; furthermore, although his "consistent innings eater" mantle is largely revisionist history, Loaiza was nonetheless a much sounder veteran than Ryan Drese is.

But there's no sense taking the '05 and '06 comparisons too far---the salient point is that we've now got two guys in whom to place some trust. That's good.

As for the rest, I'd imagine Lawrence is assured of a spot, albeit unofficially at this point. Ortiz is, for lack of better attributes, both durable and reliable in a sort of mediocre way; consequently, I'd imagine he's in, although he has pitched out of the bullpen previously. Wright and Ladson report that both Armas and Drese are healthy entering spring training. That is encouraging, but I would imagine we still have to afford for the possibility that arm problems will hinder at least one of them.

And, by the wonders of deduction, we are left with Rauch. Ladson's article, which provides more depth in general, contains Robinson's assessment of Giant Baba:

"We'll see where [Rauch] fits and how he performs," Robinson said. "If you don't start him, it would be very difficult to get him to start later on. We can also make him a reliever. I haven't seen him enough as a starter to draw a conclusion. As a reliever, he has been very effective. What I have liked about him from Day 1 is that he has been able to throw a strike with his fastball at almost any time. If he gets behind a hitter, he can throw a fastball for a strike."

Thus, this quotation indicates that Robinson would be inclined to use Rauch as a reliever. It is worth noting to me that Frank cited Rauch's ability to throw strikes when he needed; Robinson has the (understandable) reputation of possessing little patience with relievers who cannot find the plate---which would make his interactions with the recently-signed Felix Rodriguez and minor league invitee Kevin Gryboski (103 walks in 177 career innings) potentially . . . interesting.

Of course, the related question arises whether there is even room on the pitching staff for one or two of these starting pitcher castoffs, especially given the sensibile likelihood of an eleven-, rather than twelve-man pitching staff. The relievers already likely ticketed to head north are:

  • Cordero
  • Ayala
  • Majewski
  • Eischen
  • Stanton
  • Rodriguez
That's six pitchers already, a full bullpen complement for an eleven-man staff. Of course, anything can happen between now and Opening Day, and still worse things can happen after Opening Day. And one point I probably have not noted sufficiently in my wandering ramblings on the preseason roster traffic jam is that, rather than being Descended From On High in the middle of February, rosters are constantly evolving and adapting throughout the season---when Jim Bowden is in charge, doubly so.

But, unless we in the Natosphere have miscalculated (again!), it's highly possible the organization has reached a point of no-return with Rauch, who appears to be out of minor league option years. Could he clear waivers? I'd have to doubt it.

* * *

Diaryist King notes that minor league catcher Erick San Pedro has been added to the Nats' forty-man roster. Per King:

The 2004 Expos 2nd round pick, San Pedro is not known for carrying any significant bat with a career .151 avg after 2 minor league seasons between Savannah and Potomac.  The main reason he was added (other than filling out the 40) was most likely his glove after being mentioned as our farm's top defensive catcher by in both 2004 and 2005
Destined to be a career backup catcher who might move his way to Harrisburg this season if he can break a .200 avg.

King is correct, of course; San Pedro is the non-Brian Schneider catcher listed on the organization's forty-man roster. As for the ridiculously bad career average, that is also true, in 71 career at-bats spread out over two seasons.

San Pedro appeared to spend a significant amount of time on Potomac's disabled list last season. In the previous season, he signed with the club in July, spent a little time with the Nats' rookie league entry in the Gulf Coast League, then was promoted to Low-A Savannah for a spell.

I cannot begin to speculate why San Pedro was added to the forty-man roster at this point in time, but I do imagine Nats Farm Authority will make a note of it. (Incidentally, NFA listed Baseball America's top thirty prospects for the Nats, and San Pedro was not among them.)