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10/14/07 The 2008 Nationals Starting Rotation: Matt Chico?

     According to diamondbacks.scout.com, the Washington Nationals left-handed starter Matt Chico, "...didn't stay with the program," during the one year he pitched for the USC Trojans, so in spite of the fact that Chico posted a (6-4) record with a 5.48 ERA in 13 starts as a 19 year-old freshman in 2002, Chico left the program and was drafted out of Palomar College in California by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the 96th overall pick in the 3rd Round of the 2003 MLB Amateur draft.

     In Chico's first professional season (2003), he pitched at Class A Yakima in the Northwest League, where the lefty went (7-4) in 13 starts, with a 3.53 ERA, and 71 K's in 71.1 innings. 2004 started in a higher Class-A level with South Bend in the Midwest League, where Chico went (8-5) with a 2.57 ERA and 89 K's in 87.2 innings, earning a call-up to Double-AA El Paso.

     Then twenty-two years of age, Chico was pasted in 12 starts with El Paso, going (3-7) with a 5.78 ERA, though he still struck out 59 in 62.2 innings. Chico started 2005 back at Class-A and followed the same pattern, (7-2) with a 3.76 ERA in 18 starts at Class-A Lancaster, and then (1-7) with a 5.98 ERA after a move up to Double-AA Tennessee.

     In 2006, Matt Chico was acquired by the Washington Nationals, along with right-hander Garrett Mock, for DC's veteran righty Livan Hernandez. At the time of the trade, Chico was in the midst of a (7-2) campaign with Double-AA Tennessee, during which Chico had a 2.22 ERA in 81 innings of work, striking out 63 while walking 21, and Nationals Assistant GM Tom Rizzo, who was Arizona's Director of Scouting when the D-Backs drafted Chico, had apparently still been following the left-handers' career.

     In the 4 starts at the end of 2006 that Chico pitched for Washington's Double-AA affiliate in Harrisburg, of the Eastern League, he went (2-0) in 22.0 innings in which he struck out 13 batters.

     Entering 2007 Chico was on the radar as one of the few quality left handers in camp with the Nationals, but he surprised just about everyone by earning a spot in the starting rotation with the Nationals by going (2-2) in 5 starts to impress new Nationals Manager Manny Acta, who was quoted by mlb.com's Nationals writer Bill Ladson at the time saying, "This kid (Chico) can pitch...(he) hasn't looked overmatched in one of his outings...I think he will be able to handle anything that comes his way mentally, too."

     Matt Chico started his Major League career with 4.0 innings of work against the visiting Florida Marlins in DC's RFK Stadium. Chico allowed 8 hits and 6 runs on 3 HR's in his first start, issuing no walks and striking 3 Marlins in a game the Nationals came back to win (7-6) with three runs in the bottom of the ninth.

     Chico was (2-2) in five starts in April, earning his first MLB win on April 16th against Atlanta, pitching 5.0 innings of 4-hit, 1-run ball against the Braves. Chico went (1-3) in his next 12 starts, and entered the All-Start break at (4-5) in 18 starts with a 4.39 ERA and 51 K's.

     The "mental" part of Chico's game, that Nationals Manager Manny Acta alluded to, was tested in the second half of the 2007 season when Chico went (1-2) in 7 starts, over which he allowed 44 hits, 24 runs, 10 HR's and 26 walks in 36 innings on the hill, resulting in a demotion to Triple-AAA Columbus.

     Matt Chico returned to the Nationals with the September call-ups, and posted a (2-2) record in 6 starts, including two big late season wins against the Mets and Phillies that played a big part in deciding the NL East race. Chico responded well to the Playoff atmosphere, holding the Mets to 3 runs on 9 hits in 5.1 innings, and pitching 6.0 innings in a game Philadelphia was desperate to win, where Chico held Philly to 1 run on 4 hits in a 4-2 Nationals victory.

     Matt Chico ended his first MLB season, at the age of twenty-four, with a (7-9) record, 4.63 ERA, 94 K's, 74 walks, and 26 HR's allowed in 167.0 innings. Chico was the only Nationals starter to make every scheduled start in 2007, and seems to be the only sure bet to start the 2008 season in the Nationals rotation with the myriad of injuries to other DC starters.

     Chico's first season in DC has to be considered a success. The question now becomes whether Chico builds on the early success or regresses in his sophomore season. Chico was the only left-hander to earn a spot in the Spring of 2007, but in 2008, John Lannan, Ross Detwiler, and Michael O'Connor will all be in camp and looking to earn a spot on the roster. Is it even safe to say that Chico's spot in starting rotation is guaranteed?

Matt Chico's Number #1 fans(though they haven't posted in a while)...

http://www.mattchicorules.blogspot.com/

Diamonbacks.scout.com Chico Article:

http://diamondbacks.scout.com/a.z?s=247&p=8&c=1&nid=2591364