Mike Rizzo scouts Javier Vazquez in Puerto Rico

January 10, 2013

(Alex Brandon/AP)

Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo traveled to Puerto Rico to watch free agent veteran starter Javier Vazquez pitch on Wednesday night in a winter league game, according to several reports there. The Nationals have made bolstering their starting pitching depth a priority this offseason, and after a top scout evaluated the right-hander and was impressed, Rizzo made the trip to see for himself.

The Nationals liked how Vazquez pitched recently and were interested in signing him to a minor league contract with an “out” – an option for the pitcher to ask for his release by a certain date if not added to the major league active roster. It’s unclear if Vazquez would be interested in such a minor league deal or would hold out for a major league deal. The Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox also scouted Vazquez, according to a FOX Sports report.

On Wednesday night, in a playoff game against the Cangrejeros de Santurce, Vazquez tossed six innings, allowing one run and striking out 10 batters for the Criollos de Caguas. According to tweets by Alex Cora, the former Nationals player and current general manager for Vazquez’s team, the right-hander consistently threw 94 mph and hit 95 mph on his 83rd pitch of the night.

In 23 innings for the Leones de Ponce, his regular season team, Vazquez has as 3.52 ERA over five starts and 30 strikeouts. (During the playoffs, players whose teams didn’t qualify can play for other teams.)

“He looked great, in very good shape,” Rizzo told the local El Nuevo Dia newspaper during Wednesday’s game.

The Nationals have sought to bulk up their starting pitching depth after trades for Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span thinned the position’s depth in the minor leagues. With Stephen Strasburg, Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Ross Detwiler and newcomer Dan Haren, the Nationals boast one of the best rotations in the majors.  But they didn’t suffer a major injury to their main five starters last season — a rarity — and an injury to any of them next season could spell trouble.

They want to add pitchers to the higher rungs of the minor leagues, such as Class AAA, where a starter could serve as insurance for an injury to the major leaguers. Most of the Nationals’ best starting prospects are coming back from injury or lower in the minor league system, such as Nathan Karns, Sammy Solis and Matt Purke.

Vazquez, 36, is making a comeback after pitching last in the majors in 2011 for the Florida Marlins, when he punched up a 3.69 ERA and 13-11 record over 192 2/3 innings with 162 strikeouts. He opted to spent time with family after that season despite several overtures from interested teams. Now, he wants to return.

Over a 14-year career, Vazquez went 165-160 with a 4.22 ERA. He began his career with the Montreal Expos, where he spent six seasons, ending his stint with them in 2003, just before they moved to Washington.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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James Wagner · January 9, 2013