Douoguih said he tries to render his opinion in a vacuum, without knowing how badly Rizzo may want to acquire the player. Then, the two talk. They discuss the medical risks, upsides and downsides, and the team’s front office makes the final call. “In general, what I’ve found is that you err on the conservative side,” Douoguih said.
In Garcia’s case, Rizzo used both medical and scouting opinions. He had seen Garcia pitch in high school and was impressed. The Nationals kept tabs on Garcia and once the Yankees released him, they touched base. Rizzo called a family friend, former Yankees pitching instructor Billy Connors, and heard what he needed to hear about Garcia: that he had the right talent and personality to handle the grueling recovery.
In his first full season with the Nationals in 2012, Garcia was eased along. He said that while in the minors with the Nationals he wasn’t allowed to throw three days in a row, and if he pitched back-to-back he got a day off. To build him up first, Garcia threw two innings at a time, then two days off. Steve Gober, the Nationals’ minor league rehab coordinator and now assistant team trainer, would call often to check in.
“Everything they did had a plan and a reason for anything,” said Garcia, who had heard positive reviews from Chien-Ming Wang, a former Yankees pitcher who was with the Nationals for three seasons, a tenure that began with a lengthy rehabilitation from major shoulder surgery. “And that’s why I think everything went so well.”
‘Knows what they’re doing’
Giolito noticed the Nationals’ approach, too, but from afar. While some criticized the team for shutting down Strasburg last season during a pennant race after the starter had reached an innings limit in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, Giolito appreciated the philosophy. “I see a young guy not being overworked,” he said.
As Giolito and his agent negotiated with the Nationals last July, team officials laid out their plan for him. Giolito, a right-hander who had thrown his fastball 100 mph, had been considered a possible first overall pick before he strained the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow during the spring of his senior season at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, Calif.
Concerns over Giolito’s elbow dropped him to 16th overall, where the Nationals selected him. The team’s top West Coast scout, Mark Baca, came to Giolito’s house to make the initial pitch to convince him to sign instead of going to UCLA. Rizzo talked to both Giolito and his agent, Ryan Hamill at CAA Sports, before signing the prospect for $2.925 million. Rizzo reiterated to Giolito that the organization doesn’t shy away from players with arm trouble and would be prudent with his care.
Both sides knew that Tommy John surgery was a legitimate possibility should Giolito’s arm suffer a setback. That’s what happened when he made his professional debut on Aug. 14 in a Florida Gulf Coast League game. Giolito felt pain in his arm, and two weeks later he was operated on by Yocum, who also performed the same procedure on Zimmermann and Strasburg.
“My parents were very supportive of my decision to come to this organization because they did their research as well and looked and saw Strasburg and Zimmermann,” said Giolito, who plans to throw off a mound this May. “They saw that and were like, ‘Yeah, [you’re] definitely going to an organization that knows what they’re doing as far as your arm.’ ”