Two recent pitching performances have raised questions about the composition of the Washington Nationals' starting rotation and bullpen, with both Joel Hanrahan and Mike "Lefty" O'Connor arguing, in appearances on the hill, for their own inclusion on the DC roster when the season officially gets underway seventeen days from today.
Last night it was Joel Hanrahan who came on in relief of Nationals' starter John Patterson and proceeded to strike out 8 Atlanta Braves' batters over 3.0 IP, allowing just one hit and holding a slim Washington lead through six. Then this afternoon, Mike O'Connor took the mound against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Viera, Florida's Space Coast Stadium and completed 5 innings of no-hit ball over which he walked 3, K'd 3 and allowed 2 runs, only 1 of which was earned.
According to Barry Svrluga's recent post entitled, "Blue Heaven -- and a chat!" at his washingtonpost.com blog "Nationals Journal", Hanrahan caught everyone's attention last night, but his inclusion on the Opening Day roster may have as much to do with his lack of roster flexibility as his onfield achievements:
"The clubhouse is still buzzing about Joel Hanrahan's performance last night at Disney, blowing away the Braves over three innings. The easy guess: He makes this team because he's out of options, and as Manny Acta said, "We want to stockpile arms."
Hanrahan, who turned 26 last October, spent 7 seasons in the Dodgers' system before making his Major League debut last season in DC with 11 starts and 12 appearances for the Nationals, compiling a (5-3) record with a 6.00 ERA and 43 K's in 51.0 innings. Including last night's performance, Hanrahan's (1-0) with a 0.00 ERA and 12 K's in 7.2 innings this Spring, with only 1 walk and 2 hits allowed, and Hanrahan told MLB.com's Bill Ladson in an article entitled, "Switch to relief relaxes Hanrahan" that the transition to the bullpen has been smooth so far, as Mr. Ladson writes:
"Hanrahan said he loves being a reliever. He is more comfortable on the mound and no longer thinking about walking hitters or giving up runs.
"'I'm not trying to hit corners. I'm letting it go,' Hanrahan said. 'I feel being a reliever is working out pretty well. If that's the role I'm going to be in, that's fine. I'm learning the reliever's role in Spring Training -- knowing how many pitches it takes to get ready.'"
Mike O'Connor made 20 starts for DC in 2006, going (3-8) in 105.0 innings with a 4.80 ERA and 59 K's. A subsequent injury and eventual surgery on his left (pitching) elbow found O'Connor recovering in Double-AA Harrisburg last season and putting up a (3-7) record and a 7.07 ERA in 71.1 innings and 15 starts, but so far this season, in the words of Nationals' Pitching Coach Randy St. Claire, as recounted by MLB.com's Bill Ladson in an article entitled, "O'Connor showing he's healthy":
"...O'Connor has also improved his pitching mechanics. He has straightened up his stride on the mound, and it's rare that one sees O'Connor's pitches high in the strike zone.
"'I think his command is better,' St. Claire said. 'His delivery is better. He has worked his tail off on his delivery.'"
Barry Svrluga reports that O'Connor put an exclamation point on today's performance in his last at bat of the afternon. After Mr. Svrluga's writes that, "Mike O'Connor settled down after a shaky first inning in which he walked the first two men he faced..." in his "Nationals Journal" post, "Austin Kearns finally heard from", Mr. Svrluga's continues asking and answering his own questions, writing:
"Did I mention O'Connor settled down? There are now two outs in the bottom of the fifth, and he hasn't allowed a hit. Did I say two outs? He just sat down Russell Martin on a wicked curveball -- looking. That should be it for him."
The Nationals Farm Authority (http://www.farmauthority.dcsportsnet.com/) included a prediction that DC's bullpen was Hanrahan's destination come March 30th, in their ongoing well-informed and interesting series of post's predicting everyone in the organization's upcoming assignments, the most recent of which was entitled, "Projecting the Rosters - Columbus" where they write:
"...It appears that Joel Hanrahan (R) has the lead on (Chris) Schroder for the 7-man bullpen for Washington..."
O'Connor's fate? An AP article on washingtontimes.com, descriptively titled, "Mike O'Connor pitches 5 hitless innings and Nationals beat Tommy Lasorda's Dodgers 10-4", anonymously predicts that, "...O'Connor, a longshot for a spot in the Nationals rotation...is likely to start the season in Triple-A," and in support of the claim, quotes Nationals' Manager Manny Acta, who clears up the issue?...(in a semantically mysterious quote):
"'(O'Connor's)...one of those guys we feel comfortable about if anything happens we can grab him,' Acta said."
Um...Okay...Is there a comma missing or something?