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Greisinger Speaks in Present Tense

Pitcher Doesn't Wonder 'What-If'

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 5, 2005; Page D09

VIERA, Fla., March 4 -- There were perhaps three dozen fans in the stands Friday at Space Coast Stadium. No vendors hawking beer, no worker manning the scoreboard, no public address announcer bellowing out the words, "Now pitching for the Washington Nationals, Seth Greisinger."

But there was Greisinger, standing on the mound, wearing the uniform of a team that will play its games maybe 15 or 20 minutes from his home in Alexandria. It was only an intrasquad game, and given the ambiance, felt a million miles from the major leagues. No big deal. Greisinger has been through enough to know that the only thing that matters is the moment, regardless of where that moment is or who's around to share it.

Seth Greisinger
Seth Greisinger
Former All-Met and University of Virginia standout Seth Greisinger is trying to make the Nationals' roster. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)

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"When you focus on the present, there's no stress or anxiety," he said. "But when you focus on the past, or the future, a lot of times you're stressed, and there's pressure."

On Friday, Greisinger's present involved pitching three clean innings for the Nationals, the hometown team he never had while growing up in McLean. It might not seem like much, not for a kid who was an all-American at the University of Virginia, who was a first-round pick -- the sixth choice in the draft -- in 1996, just three years after he was an All-Met at McLean High.

Those kind of credentials lead to lofty expectations, and the Detroit Tigers certainly expected much of Greisinger, a poised kid with a solid array of pitches when he threw in the 1996 Olympics and made his minor league debut the following summer. By 1998, he was in the majors, starting 21 games, taking his lumps, but very much part of the Tigers' future.

So much can happen when young arms give way, though. Sitting in his office Friday morning, Nationals Manager Frank Robinson was asked what he knew about Greisinger. He shook his head. "Anybody know anything about him?"

These are the things of which Greisinger is well aware. When you have ligament-replacement surgery -- the infamous "Tommy John" surgery -- in your right elbow, when you don't pitch for almost three complete years, big league managers don't usually remember your abilities, much less your name. Greisinger has already been told by Nationals officials that his chances of making the team are "slim to none." It is his reality, and there's no point, now, in dealing with the what-ifs and might-have-beens.

"To tell you the truth, the only time I really think about it is when people ask," Greisinger said. "You try not to think about it just because there's a lot of what-ifs. I've seen guys I've played alongside -- Kris Benson, Troy Glaus, Travis Lee, Billy Koch and all these guys -- and they're having great careers. And you can say I was right there.

"But you can't really say that, because I've been through a lot, and there's guys who've been through a lot worse than me."

After undergoing the elbow surgery in June 1999, Greisinger missed all of 2000 and 2001. He returned in 2002, made it back to the majors, and then had shoulder problems. More surgery. He pitched at Class AAA Toledo in 2003, and then made it to the majors with the Minnesota Twins last year. He struggled a bit, was sent to the minors, and before he could be called up to help in a pennant race, he broke his hand. In 41 major league games -- spanning 1998 to 2004 -- he is 10-16 with a 5.56 ERA.

He said Friday that he won't consider himself "all the way back" until he is not only on a major league roster for good, but is getting hitters out and winning ballgames. The intrasquad game, then, was at least a small step in that direction. He allowed just three hits in three innings, didn't walk anyone and struck out two. The only run came when he threw an ill-advised change-up to outfielder Alex Escobar, who had not yet seen his fastball. Escobar deposited it over the left field fence.

"I'm impressed with the way he's throwing the ball," Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. "He's working ahead of hitters and making them be aggressive. If he locates his pitches, he should be successful."

Greisinger's dream, of course, is to pitch at RFK Stadium, to win a ballgame and drive to Alexandria and sleep in his own bed. But if he begins the season at Class AAA New Orleans -- heck, even if he remains there -- he can be comfortable. That would be his present, and the present is all that matters.

"I've had my issues," Greisinger said. "But the good news is I'm pitching."

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