Nationals Notebook

Nats Planning for Second Wave of Young Pitchers

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 18, 2009

NEW YORK, June 17 -- On the surface, the trade the Washington Nationals pulled off late Tuesday night -- they dealt left-handed pitcher Mike O'Connor to the San Diego Padres for a player to be named later -- had few implications. O'Connor was in the starting rotation with Class AAA Syracuse. He had a 5.45 ERA. He hadn't appeared in the big leagues since May 2008, and his odds of reappearing any time soon were Powerball-small.

But despite all that, the O'Connor deal connects with something relevant to Washington's plans. Right now, the Nationals have four rookies in their starting rotation. Three of them -- Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Shairon Martis -- figure to remain there for the bulk of the season.

That said, there's a good chance none of the three will be available by September. By then, each will have reached his season limit for innings -- likely somewhere between 140 and 170. The Nationals, then, are already plotting a B-list rotation for the final month. That replacement unit, right now, is taking root in Syracuse, where rotation spots have suddenly become quite important.

"We needed roster space," acting general manager Mike Rizzo said, explaining the O'Connor trade.

Already, three members of the Syracuse pitching staff -- Garrett Mock, Collin Balester and Marco Estrada -- are on the 40-man roster. Ask Rizzo about Washington's September rotation, and he mentions each of those names. He also mentions Matt Chico, rehabbing from reconstructive elbow surgery, who will eventually join the Chiefs' rotation. (With O'Connor gone, Syracuse now has room for Chico.)

"Yeah, those are guys, they'll be a part of the [big league] rotation sometime during the season," Rizzo said. "As you know, we've got young starters that we're going to protect."

Rizzo said that the innings ceilings "are different for each guy," and will depend on prior workloads. Martis has never topped 151 innings in a season. Zimmermann has never topped 134. Detwiler has never topped 124.

Odds and Ends

First-round pick Drew Storen, a closer drafted 10th overall from Stanford, will join Class A Hagerstown on Thursday. . . . Balester, pitching for Syracuse, has won four straight starts, and is 4-0 with a 1.52 ERA across his last six outings. . . .

Austin Kearns, batting just .201, was not in the starting lineup on Wednesday night. Since May 7, the date of his last RBI, Kearns is hitting .151 and slugging .178 in 73 at-bats. In that span, he also has grounded into six double plays.

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