Rauch Reaches All-Time High

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 8, 2007

KISSIMMEE, Fla., March 7 -- Jon Rauch hears it at the mall. He hears it as he pumps his gas. "Do you play basketball?" people ask.

"It's part of daily life," he said Wednesday. "And I'm starting to get the football question more now, too."

Daily life, at 6 feet 11, can be, as Rauch said, "a grind." He ducks under thresholds. His knees have nowhere to hide on airplanes. He can't, as he said, "exactly go out and buy a Honda Accord," though he did test-drive a Mini Cooper and found it, surprisingly, "a lot more comfortable for me than most cars."

There is one place he considers his height an advantage: "Out on that mound."

Rauch is a pitcher for the Washington Nationals, a man who found new confidence last season when he became a valuable set-up man for closer Chad Cordero, a man who found new meaning in his life with the birth of his first child, daughter Aubree, last December. But whatever Rauch accomplishes on the field, whatever he goes through off of it, he will carry one label: tallest player in major league history.

"Nothing you can do about it," he said Wednesday at Osceola County Stadium before the Nationals' 5-2 loss to the Houston Astros in which he pitched a scoreless inning.

Rauch prefers to discuss the things he can control, and those include backing up his strong 2006, one that featured a career-high 85 appearances and a 3.35 ERA. He has recovered from two shoulder surgeries, the first in 2001, the second in 2005, and is renewed and reassured now that he no longer has to grapple with how starting games affected his arm.

All those peripheral issues -- his health, his role, his confidence -- have changed since Rauch was drafted in the third round by the Chicago White Sox in 1999, then traded to the Montreal Expos in 2004. But he can never escape his height. He was 6-3 as a freshman in high school, around 6-7 when he graduated and 6-10 by the time he was drafted after his junior year at Morehead State in his home state of Kentucky. After he entered pro ball, he grew an inch more.

So when Rauch reached the majors for the first time in 2002, he officially one-upped legendary 6-10 left-hander Randy Johnson as the tallest player the majors had ever known. He is not overpowering, with a fastball that tops out around 93 mph. But he presents a different look.

"You probably want to take a couple pitches when you come in against him," said Nationals outfielder Austin Kearns, who faced Rauch when Kearns was with Cincinnati. "The only guy you can compare him to is Randy, who's coming from the other side. You kind of got to get ready quicker, just because he's releasing that much closer to you than someone who's normal size."

Rauch has no real explanation for his height. His father is 6-2, his mother 5-8. He said his father's parents were 6-4 and 5-10, and his mother's brothers all were tall. But he prefers other reasons.

"I grew up under power lines," he said, smiling. "I swam in the Ohio River. Ate a lot of peanut butter."

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