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In a stunning reversal, the Nats have indeed signed free agent pitcher Pedro Astacio---subject to, you guessed it, an MRI on his shoulder and elbow. According to the article, Astacio will earn $700,000 with his first step into the metaphorical Panera Bread, an extra $500,000 for making it out of Viera, plus the chance at about $2 million in performance incentives.

As trite as it may be to say, Astacio, 36, is what he is: a veteran righthander with some savvy and a balky shoulder. After throwing 191.2 innings for the Mets in 2002, he has managed a total of just 171.1 innings pitched since then.

Astacio's arm seemed sound for a change in '05; oh, he spent two trips on the disabled list, but this time it was for a strained groin and a strained quad. Released by the Rangers in late June (after a 2-8, 6.04 line), Astacio joined the Padres shortly thereafter, and it will be his performance with the Pads (4-2, 3.17) that the Nats no doubt highlight.

Furthermore, just as we heard much about Brian Lawrence's strong September performance, expect the same with respect to Astacio, particularly a sterling September 18 start against the Nats, in which he surrendered but a single run on three hits in seven frames.

Because I have it handy, I might as well provide the Sporting News Baseball Register (and Fantasy Handbook) scouting report for Astacio:

Throws: [U]pper-80s fastball, a slurve and a changeup.
Tendencies: [C]an run his fastball, which has occasional sinking action, to the inside part of the plate against righthanded and lefthanded hitters. Changes speeds with his slurve; can throw it slower, with a big break, or harder with a flat break. Relies too much on his breaking ball when he gets in trouble and starts to nibble. Must have good command to win.
Outlook: Though he knows how to keep hitters off balance, Astacio's motion puts extra stress on his shoulder; he is an injury waiting to happen.

I suppose we will just have to take that chance.

Astacio had a weird campaign last season. With Texas, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was outstanding, four-to-one, but he surrendered a homer every five innings pitched, which was up in Ramon Ortiz Land. However, with San Diego, Astacio's strikeout-to-walk ratio flattened tremendously (not much better than even), yet his home run rate dropped to one every fifteen innings.

The decline in homers is pretty easy to explain: Astacio took a real shining to Petco Park, allowing zero homers there in 32.2 innings pitched. You may choose how to regard this turn of events---whether the good news is that he's headed to similarly power-repressed RFK Stadium, or whether the bad news is that, as a Padre, he still surrendered long balls at a rate greater than one per every seven innings pitched.

* * *

As King notes in his diary, the Astacio signing might put Jon Rauch right back on the bubble again. We'll have to see. No matter what, Rauch is still very tall.

Assuming good health---which, of course, you really cannot do with Astacio---his signing restores the number of legitimate starter candidates back to seven, with two sure things. This is probably as good a time as any to resubmit an idea that was broached previously, here and elsewhere: the thought that Tony Armas, Jr., might be best suited to the bullpen. I don't know if anyone within the organization would find the idea worth noodling (or if Team Bodes has already noodled it), and I'd imagine Armas might not be too keen to the suggestion. But look at his record linked above; recall how much he'd labor to get through five innings last season. (He still threw the ugliest six innings of shutout ball---at Coors Field, no less---that you'll ever see.) As long as he's fully hydrated, Armas would perhaps stand to benefit from not having the pressure to pitch deep, or even somewhat deep, into ballgames.

* * *

In 1992, Astacio had one of the more unappreciated rookie seasons of the past fifteen years. Making his debut on July 3, Astacio announced his arrival with a three-hit, ten-strikeout, complete game shutout against the Phillies. He allowed three earned runs over 13 innings in his next two starts (interrupted by a month after he was demoted to Triple-A), and then tossed another shutout on August 18 against the Mets. He didn't do anything particularly special for two more starts, then tossed yet another shutout on September 12 against the Giants. Astacio wasn't done; on September 29, Astacio hurled one more shutout, blanking the Reds.

In all, Astacio made 11 starts, completing four, all shutouts. In those 11 starts, he averaged about 7.5 innings per outing, pitching a total of 82 innings. In those 82 innings, Astacio allowed all of one home run.

It was a different game in 1992---the last gasp at a different era of offensive baseball. Still, that's silly good.